I was an illegal immigrant. I don't say this in a vague sense of solidarity, as in "we are all (insert name of persecuted person here)." For the first two or three years that I lived in Spain, until I got official residency, I was there illegally. Unlike for Africans, Arabs, or South Americans, this wasn't much of a problem for me, and I can't say that I know what the millions of undocumented, frightened, and exploited immigrants in our country are going through. Still, it makes me bristle when I hear people who support cruel draconian measures justify their inhumanity by saying, "Well, they broke the law coming here. We can't reward them for that."
(Of course I know that not one of those who say that ever cheated so slightly on their taxes, took a hit off a joint, or even went 50 miles an hour in a 45-mile-an-hour zone. No, because any breaking of any law is unpardonable, even for someone who has been working in this country for twenty years. I know that each and every one of those indignant immigrant-haters have not so much spit on the ground, because if so, what would be their justification? Maybe... racism? Hmmm...)
I broke the law in Spain. Of course, in a Mediterranean country, "breaking the law" is seen quite differently than here, but still... Am I ashamed? No. It was 1989. Spain was undergoing a burst of prosperity after joining democratic Europe and there was a desperate need for native-speaking English teachers. No one cared. The economy needed people like me.
Right now, in the United States, we have millions of hard-working, family-oriented people who love this country, and have not been able to regularize their status. The system is broken. No one obeys laws that don't make sense.
Look at it this way: imagine that in order to feed your family, you have to work downtown. The only way to get there is to drive. Your employer wants you there. There are many parking spots, but every last meter is broken. According to a city ordinance, you cannot park in a space with a broken meter. There are no other spaces, and everyone is parking next to a broken meter. Enforcement is spotty, almost non-existent. There is nothing you would love more than to pay your quarter and go to work, but your only option is to break the law.
The system is broken.
Most immigrants would love to come legally if it were an option. They obey the laws once they're here.
It is not always immoral to break a law. Sometimes it is immoral not to break the law.
Rose Parks broke the law.
The system is broken.
PS: I wrote this last night, and thinking of it this morning, it may seem that I accuse anyone who is concerned about the effects of immigration of harboring racist sentiments. I do not. When I refer to "draconian" measures against immigrants, I mean the current plan offered by the House of Representatives, that would give undocumented immigrants felony status and criminalize anyone who aids them -- according to the Catholic bishops, this could be anyone who gives someone food or medicine without asking for their papers first. I realize that someone may disagree with about the economic effects of the level of immigration we have now without xenophobia playing a part. What I was really thinking about are people like this guy:
"When the rule of law is dictated by a mob of illegal aliens taking to the streets, especially under a foreign flag, then that means the nation is not governed by a rule of law — it is a mobocracy," Jim Gilchrist, a founder of the Minutemen Project, a volunteer group that patrols the United States-Mexico border, said in an interview.This concern about law is from a leader of a vigilante group.
The fact that so much stink can be raised about what language the national anthem is sung in (that grown-ups are even discussing this shows that demagoguery is being employed here in full force) is evidence of an uneasiness about cultural issues. A lot of what is said about this new cultural element in society was said about my Irish ancestors and the ancestors of most non-WASP people just a hundred years ago. People should be honest about their motives.