By Alan Lupo
Salem News, December 4, 2008
Just north of the Mexican border in the Arizona desert, a woman loses control of her van, which crashes into a canyon. The driver, recently widowed, dies while awaiting help. Her son saves himself and sits alone, stranded, scared. He is only nine years old.
A guy named Jesus, of all things, Jesus Manuel Cordova, walking illegally from Mexico through Arizona, finds the kid and consoles him until help comes. Those who help have no choice but to take Jesus into custody. He is, after all, what the immigration panic-mongers like to call, "an illegal alien," as if such a person were from another planet.
It may come as a shock to those worrying themselves sick about illegal immigrants that most of those crossing our borders are not terrorists or criminals. They are just people trying to make a better life for themselves, because life in Latin America has not been good to them.
Common sense dictates that illegal immigration is not the biggest problem facing America, but we need a workable policy to deal with it. But common sense also has a partner in life's travails: It's called compassion, and there's a sorry lack of it these days.
In Boston, a four-year-old boy dies while in the care of a foster mother. The person who truly cared for him is the boy's father, but he had been deported to Nevis, his home in the Caribbean.
A Guatemalan who had been deported twice and paid big bucks to a smuggler to get back to his American-born autistic little boy in New Bedford, collapses from an obstruction in his airway and dies. He was an elementary school dropout, but had managed to find work to support his family.
From Ohio, to California, to Georgia, to Minnesota, to New Mexico, to Iowa, to Massachusetts, Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids have resulted in the break-up and imprisonment of family members.
Hard-line opponents of illegal immigration are right when they say that the original sin is to come here without documentation, and it's compounded by those who hire illegals. But are raids and the resulting trauma the way America wishes to deal with such people?
Last April, one of those hardliners, Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies, said, "Kids often pay for the bad decisions of their parents. If you do something wrong that sends you to jail, well, your kids suffer for that."
It's a matter-of-fact conclusion. But is this what we want America to become, as it has in the past - a place of raids, deportation and imprisonment?
We certainly want it for those immigrants, illegal or not, who join gangs, peddle drugs and commit mayhem. But they are a minority, just as criminals have been a minority in every ethnic group. Indeed, studies have shown that immigrant family members are less likely to commit violent crimes than so many of our home-grown legal citizens.
Instead of trying to put all this in perspective, we have talk-radio touts and their sheep-like followers ready to close every border and immediately deport 12 million or so illegals.
Of course, there's a lot less talk about building a Canadian border fence than a Mexican barrier. Is it just oh, so slightly possible that certain Americans fear swarthy folks who speak rapid-fire Spanish and hang on the corners to await day jobs more than, say, white folks who pledge allegiance to hockey pucks and maple leafs? Perish the thought.
But from Everett to New Bedford, from Hazelton, Pa., to Riverside, N.J., from Brewster, N.Y. to you-name-it, U.S.A., people are panicking, and in some cases, taking local action against illegal immigrants, blamed for every municipal problem or property tax increase.
The answer is not for Hazelton or Brewster to go after illegals and those who hire them. The answer is for the federal government to devise, yes, a common-sense and compassionate program to deal with this issue; something both political parties failed to do last spring.
It must be a bipartisan effort by those who realize the issue is complex, that its antidotes include such difficult strategies as improving the economies of Latin American nations and convincing folks there to have fewer kids.
What it does not warrant is to break up families, deport at will and treat fellow humans as if they were of an inferior breed.
Alan Lupo, a veteran Boston columnist who appears regularly on these pages, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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