Come to America – but do it legally

With a “migrant caravan” headed for the United States, immigration has blossomed once again as a top issue as voters head into the Nov. 6 elections.

Most of the attention is focused on Pres. Trump’s rhetoric about the caravan and his ordering of military troops to the border. But the real culprit in the immigration chaos is the U.S. Congress. America’s immigration policy is a mess, approaching disaster.

Immigration officials are operating under a mish-mash of confusing and sometimes conflicting laws and court cases. Asylum laws, immigration procedures, citizenship processes, green card regulations, dreamer status, catch-and-release policies, and various classes of worker visas all need to be reworked.

The United States has labor shortages and we need more good workers. Migrants are vital to the success of the United States. But under both Democratic and Republican presidents, and under congressional control by both parties, Congress has been derelict in passing sensible, comprehensive immigration reform.

And, yes, we need to control the border. There’s no question that drugs and criminals are being smuggled into our country at the southern border. No one should think they can sneak into our country illegally.

Those who wish to live and work in the United States ought to be screened carefully, and go through the proper legal processes. But those processes ought to make sense and be realistic. We need a strong wall with a big door. Those who go through the door ought to do it legally.

I have never liked Trump’s harsh rhetoric on immigration. But I agree we need to control the border. I would even support the $20 billion wall if it was a tradeoff for bi-partisan, sensible, comprehensive, compassionate immigration reform. Trump ought to direct much of his ire regarding immigration toward members of Congress and shame them into action.

I’ve written previously about a young couple I know 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 love the opportunity to go to college in the United States. But they were struggling financially and in other ways because of the conditions and limitations on their status as foreign students. They faced work restrictions, 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 illegally. 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 their resentment is justified. Entering the country illegally or staying in the country illegally is certainly not fair to those who struggle for years to work and 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 flagrantly 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 those situations do not justify violating America’s laws.

We need to control the border. And we need comprehensive, sensible immigration reform so that America, a nation of immigrants, can continue to be blessed and enriched by good people who desire to live, work and raise their families in America – but do it legally.