i've been trying to imagine what it would be like to be an undocumented immigrant in the usa now. i read of a young woman in mississippi who came here as a child, a mother in chicago, a father in arizona, and think what it might be like to be in their shoes. the young woman grew up in the usa and is one of the "dreamers" protected from deportation under the deferred action program instituted under president obama. the mother is married to an american citizen and her children are american citizens, and the father's children are american citizens. i read, too, of another father who was taken into custody as he walked his daughter to school. to be undocumented and to live in constant fear that one will be ripped from one's family, from all that is familiar, must be terrible. to put a face with these fears, that of the young woman in mississippi, daniela vargas, makes the terror much more real. she watched as other members of her family were taken into custody while she was left. only after she spoke publicly of her plight was she apprehended by immigration control and enforcement and sent to a detention facility. she has since been released, but it is unclear why or if she will be deported at some point in the future.
i am trying, too, to put myself in the place of those who are apprehending undocumented immigrants and beginning the process of deportation. i find this especially difficult to do. i know that these government employees have families that love them and, like most americans, they are doing what they can to support themselves and those they love. what does one feel when one's job is to arrest fathers, mothers, and young adults whose only "crime" is to have entered the country illegally, when one is responsible for taking parents away from their children? certainly, it's easier to apprehend those who are known criminals and take part in their deportation. but do the "ice police" have difficulty taking into custody those who are living normal lives, free of criminal activity, caring for and supporting their families, being good neighbors, doing honest work? could i convince myself as one of those "immigration enforcers" that the work i did benefited the country or anyone in it?
on the one hand, we say that undocumented immigrants are in the country illegally and are therefore criminals, they have broken the laws of the usa simply by being here. on the other hand, we see that the vast majority of these "lawbreakers" are living productive lives and have come here to help their families. they are contributing members of society, often doing jobs that many native-born citizens don't want to do. perhaps one's attitude toward these "illegals" is driven by one's worldview, whether one sees the world in blacks and whites with no gray shading: "the law is the law, and, if we don't enforce it, society breaks down." or whether one sees the law as the servant of a just and merciful society that looks out for those who are disadvantaged and judges each case on its own merits, considering all the mitigating circumstances.
i think of draconian laws in the past that made criminals of those who stole food to feed themselves and their starving families, that sent those who could not pay their debts to prison, that sent the poor and orphans to live in squalid "workhouses," that put the children of those who could not support those children on "orphan trains" to be sent to other parts of the country to meet an uncertain fate, that seized the land of native americans and sent those natives to live on reservations. history is rife with instances of laws that blamed the weakest members of society for their situations and that took advantage of the powerless. just because something is "the law" doesn't make it right, nor does failure to abide by unjust laws make one a criminal, except to those who hold "law" to be more important than humanity.
in the name of securing our safety, we are treating others inhumanely, making criminals of those whose greatest concern is the well-being of their loved ones. one has to ask if such a course truly makes us safer, or are we creating enemies that did not exist before. the surest way to create terrorists is to corner the helpless so that their only choices are to give up or to lash out.
may we see the humanity in every person. may we never see a great mass of criminal "others," but may we see each individual as worthy of our compassion and respect regardless of where each was born. may our laws protect the helpless and the powerless, and may justice always be tempered by mercy. may the law of love be our highest law. shalom.