CNN recently posted a story about a college student named Colotl who was arrested and almost deported. The gist of the situation was that she was stopped for a traffic violation and could not provide a valid license. Instead, she provided an out of date Mexican passport. In short, she seems to have been in the country illegally. While she is being presented as a victim, she did violate the law. In addition to being here illegally, she was also operating a motor vehicle without a license, which is also a crime.
I am, however, sympathetic to her plight. After all, she is in the United States trying to better herself and her prospects through higher education. Historically, we can trace back many of Mexico’s problems to the United States. This is a laudable goal. However, there are procedures for foreign students to become legitimate, legal students here in the United States. I know-I went to college and grad school with many people from outside the United States. I also have had many foreign students in my classes-students who were here legally.
However, I do see her and even the police as victims of the current system. As pundits and politicians point out, our current system of handling illegal immigrants is in serious need of reform-both in terms of the laws and the implementation. Those who are here illegally would often much prefer to be here legally and legitimately. The police would probably prefer to avoid being caught up in a political and social mess. Unfortunately, our elected officials seem to lack the courage or ability to engage this problem in a rational and effective manner. This has led certain states, such as Arizona, to pass its own laws. However, this sort of hodge-podge approach is not effective and serves mainly to create political divisiveness and hot tempers. That is, they are not helping the situation-except, perhaps to draw attention to the lack of effective action at a national level.
Setting out the goals is a relatively easy matter. One objective is to deter people from coming here illegally and to deal justly and effectively with people who elect to do so. Currently, we do not do as well as we should. A second objective is to ensure that in the pursuit of the first objective we do not violate people’s rights or encourage racism. Another objective is to redesign the system and its operation so as to make it more efficient and effective for people to go through the legal process of residing, working and going to school here. Such people contribute a great deal to the United States and many end up deciding to stay and become citizens. A look at the history of our country shows that we have benefited greatly from this influx of people from other places and this is something that gives us great strength. To use one extreme example, we benefited immensely from scientists and intellectuals fleeing from Nazi Germany and the former Soviet Bloc. As such, we should be glad that people really want to come here and we should encourage this. But, it is also important to acknowledge that there are people we should keep out. After all, we have no shortage of our own real criminals, terrorists, and other miscreants and there is no good reason to allow more into our country. Thus, the ultimate goal is to build a system that encourages and allows people who will contribute to be here legally, while ensuring that those who would bring harm remain outside.
Of course, setting such goals is easy. To use an analogy, it is like a marathon: it is easy to know that you need to cross the finish line. The hard part is making that a reality. Doing this will be like training for a marathon-it will take will and a capability to endure some pain.