Sunday, September 9, 2007

Immigrate Legally

A few weeks ago the Chicago Tribune carried the story of Elvira Arellano, a criminal fugitive who was deported once and returned for a repeat engagement. She was caught again. Rather than report for deportation, she sought sanctuary in a Humboldt Park church and reimagined herself as an activist and a national symbol for illegal immigrant parents . There she was left alone for months until she traveled to Los Angeles to speak at an immigration rally and was arrested afterwards. She had this to say:

''They were in a hurry to deport me because they saw that I was threatening to mobilize and organize the people to fight for legalization,'' Arellano said in Spanish outside the Tijuana apartment building where she was staying. ''I have a fighting spirit and I'm going to continue fighting.''

Something was lost in translation unless "fighting" means "sitting on my butt in a church for a year and doing nothing much" in Spanish. Immigration and Customs Enforcement wasn't threatened by her efforts. They weren't in much of a hurry, either. They deported her because after months of very vocal attention whoring she left the sanctuary provided by the goodhearted but misguided congregation of the Adalberto United Methodist Church. ICE just avoided the hysterical press that would have followed a raid on a midwestern church.

The saddest note in her story is that she had to choose either to leave her US-born son in the land of his birthright or take him to Mexico with her. Her decision to leave him with his godmother in Chicago is somehow seen as a great tragedy rather than simple common sense and the easily foreseen direct result of Elvira's own choices.

The September print edition of The Progressive magazine tells of two more indocumentados in similar straits. One of them, a young woman with infant in tow, has taken refuge in yet another church acting as part of what's called the New Sanctuary Movement. Supporters of this movement apparently see no difference between Central American political refugees of the 80's and opportunist scofflaws of the 00's. Hidden behind the pain and disrupted lives of all three families are stories with this simple pattern:

I'm not a political refugee fleeing for my life from an oppressive regime. I came to the US to work at a better paying job. I forged documents (birth certificate, social security number) to legitimize myself. I lived under the radar for years, not paying taxes, and got away with it because immigration laws are as weakly enforced as I had hoped. I married a naturalized citizen and we have a US- born child. During all my years in the States I did not avail myself of existing means to work toward citizenship. Now the law has caught up with me and I will be separated from my family and deported. I've been a model citizen with the exception of my illegal status. Isn't this sad? Won't you let me slide?

No. Send us the tired, the poor, the homeless, the tempest-tossed. Many Americans still like those sentiments even though they're not and never were policy. We will insist on citizenship, however. This worked for the Irish, the Italian, the German, the Pole, the Jew, the Muslim, and the Hindu, for refugees and immigrants from too many lands to mention, and we think it should work for you too. Don't drag little Saulito or Pablito out as Poster Child for the Fabricated Cause when rules you knew about and dodged are finally enforced after years of grace.