Would you sneak into a foreign country and stay illegally?

The debate over illegal immigration continues to divide the country. 

Personally, I’m very much pro-immigration — at least the legal kind. America is a nation of immigrants and we are a better and stronger country because of immigration. Nearly all of us are descendants of immigrants.

I also have sympathy for illegal immigrants who are good people (other than the obvious fact that they are breaking the law). I am sad to see families torn apart and other tragedies of deportation.

Still, while I want to be compassionate, there’s another side to the debate on illegal immigration. Some time ago, I became acquainted with a young couple from Brazil, both students at the University of Utah. I helped them move to a new apartment and we discussed their experience living and studying in America.

They loved the opportunity to go to college in the United States. But they were severely struggling financially and in other ways because of the conditions and limitations on their status as foreign students. They were not allowed to work, and they were considering giving up and going home because of the financial challenges.

I asked how they felt about people who sneak into this country to work. They had no sympathy at all. They were highly resentful of illegal immigrants who break the rules. They were trying to obey the laws, be respectful of the country where they were studying, and felt they were penalized for doing it right.

And they’re correct. Entering the country illegally or staying in the country illegally is certainly not fair to those who work and struggle for years to study in the United States and/or become citizens.

Here’s another thought. I have tried to put myself in the position of an illegal immigrant. As one who tries to obey the laws of the land, I’ve imagined myself sneaking across the border of a foreign country to better my situation, or visiting a foreign country as a student or tourist and then staying illegally.

For me, it would be traumatic. I would be terrified of being caught. I would continually feel guilty for violating the law. I would always be looking over my shoulder. I would stay in the shadows and be fearful of law enforcement because I was violating the laws of the country I had entered.

If I brought children with me, or had children after I arrived, I would feel extra responsibility. I would always be in fear of getting caught and being separated from them. I would worry that my actions jeopardized my family.

And if I was caught and was deported, I’m not sure I would blame the immigration agents, or the country I had entered illegally. I would probably think I brought it on myself. I have enough of a conscience that I think I would blame myself for violating another country’s laws. I would feel bad that because of my actions, my family was suffering.

And if I violated other laws in my illegal country, I would feel doubly fearful. If I drove while drunk, if I sold illegal drugs, if I joined a gang, if I stole cars, or even did worse things, I don’t think I would consider myself a victim if I was caught and deported.

I recognize that some otherwise good people sneak into the United States because of terrible conditions in their home countries, or because they can’t find work. But I’m not sure those situations justify violating the laws of another country.

I know it’s not practical to round up and deport 10 million illegal immigrants. But the current administration’s focus on lawbreakers certainly makes sense. I’m not sure illegal immigrations should all be considered victims of an unfair system or a harsh and cruel president.