According to people who should know, President Obama is about to take unilateral action on America’s vexing immigration problem. They predict he will block deportation of undocumented immigrants with American-born children – or with children who have become American citizens or legal residents – as well as those who were brought to America as children.
Criminals and drug smugglers will still be deported, of course.
It would be a very humane act, ending the constant terror that so many in America must endure and the heartache of so many families torn apart by harsh enforcement of immigration law. But, as an immigrant who waited patiently to get here, I wonder: Is it fair?
Of course nothing about America’s immigration laws is fair. Is it fair to allow Cubans to stay once their feet touch American soil while rounding up Haitians and shipping them home?
Is it fair to welcome the highly skilled and wealthy while turning away the poor and unskilled?
I don’t know what it takes now, but in my youth if you had a hundred thousand dollars to invest you were home free, but if you were a reporter looking for a job, you had to wait in line. And it was a long, long line.
But when it comes to unfair treatment, those unfortunates who risk their lives to cross America’s Mexican border are more sinned against than sinning. Many of them are lured to America by unscrupulous employers seeking cheap labor or workers to fill jobs Americans won’t take. Others are enticed by crooks who take their money on a false promise to bring them safely to the Promised Land.
They suffer unspeakable abuse and hardship – and even risk death – in their desperation to find a better tomorrow for themselves and their children. The United Nations has quite reasonably declared that those unaccompanied children who flooded the America-Mexico border recently are refugees, not “illegal immigrants.”
However perplexing the moral question may be, the bottom line is that as many as 12 million people may be in America illegally, and there’s no way they could all be rounded up and deported.
Some means of accommodation must be found for them. They cannot forever live in the shadows, vulnerable to employers’ exploitation and blackmail, looking over their shoulders at all times, forced to accept subhuman living conditions.
As a reporter, I wrote about some of the farm workers in Florida. It was heartbreaking. And I’ve read even more horrific stories by other writers. Do you recall the case of slavery that was successfully prosecuted in Lake Placid? Yes, labor recruiters sometimes enslave the poor wretches they bring to America.
I can understand why those Republican politicians are ranting and raving about the President’s plan. A lot of their constituents bitterly resent foreigners flooding their neighborhoods, talking in a strange tongue and looking and acting “different” – possibly even competing with them for their jobs.
And there are legitimate concerns about border security.
But, once again, as the late Ted Kennedy put it, President Obama is “listening to his better angels.” What he is about to do may not be “fair,” but – all things considered – it is the right hing to do.