Conversations with a Co-worker: Immigration

I am lucky enough to routinely experience just how broad the spectrum of opinions, beliefs and experiences my coworkers represent (whether they are military, former military, family members, federal civilians, contractors, volunteers, college staff, or special program support).  They defy stereotyping, including as liberal, conservative or progressive and come in all shapes and colors.

I recently spent some time talking with a black male co-worker who was not born American.  He served in the Army and Army Reserve, married an US citizen, had children who were instantly US citizens, works as a federal civilian and has continued in higher education.

We discussed  immigration and its “hot buttons.”  He focused on the term “illegal alien” and said anyone breaking the law was subject to the penalties.  So we began to discuss hypothetical cases based on documented actual cases.

  1.  The most common, of course, are children who came to the US with undocumented parents.  They probably don’t speak the language of their country of origin, have spent their lives in the US, gone to school and made contributions.  Even their parents have probably been contributing to Social Security and state/federal taxes using false credentials.  In essence, they’ve paid into programs that they won’t receive benefits from.  Should they all be deported?  Just the parents?   If so, what happens to the child?  Just the child?
  2. What about the illegal alien who is married to an US citizen?  Should the spouse be deported while the paperwork is processed based on that marriage?  What if he/she is the primary support of the family?  If they have children, what happens to them?
  3. What about migrant workers?

Clearly, my viewpoint is that how they got here isn’t as nearly as important as what they’ve done since and how they are contributing to their communities.  The US is a country of immigrants.  My co-worker and I agreed that the most blatant abuses of access were committed by “authorized” aliens.  (The 9/11 terrorists, for example.)  Stopping illegal immigration would not have fixed that.

I agreed that catching the criminal elements, deporting them, and having them return over and over again wasn’t a solution either.  However, that element is very small and the most violent criminals are more likely to come from Russia and the Eastern Block.  I would feel comfortable with more security along our physical borders, but I don’t then we could or should close them.  (Maybe we should start jailing them instead of deporting them.  I’d go for that as long as the crime was committed in the US or could be impartially documented.) He agreed that “illegal aliens” who have been living in the US and contributing, especially children who had no part in that decision, should have a path to citizenship and the ability to remain in the US while they work that process.

In the end, the US is part of a global society.  We can no more afford to become isolationist now than we could really afford to boycott the United Nations.  First, we would face retaliation.  Second, we rely on immigration to supplement an aging population and provide a workforce for jobs we consider too hard, too menial, or too low playing.  Finally, we are a country of immigrants and need to walk our talk on human rights, democracy, and social responsibility.