There’s been a picture going around on Facebook these past couple of days. It hasn’t quite hit a critical mass yet, at least not among my friends, but it’s enough to warrant this essay.
The picture is a picture of someone’s text, so rather than posting the picture, I figured I’d just share what it says:
SO LET ME GET THIS STRAIGHT… If you cross the North Korean border illegally, you get 12 yrs hard labor. If you cross the Afghanistan border illegally, you get shot. Two Americans just got eight years for crossing the Iranian border. If you cross the U.S. border illegally you get a job, a drivers license, a place to live, health care, housing & child benefits, education, & a tax free business for 7 years. No wonder we are a country in debt. Repost if you agree!!!
(Punctuation and spelling copied verbatim).
This is a great example of using a strawman argument in political debates. But even with strawman arguments, there are still some reasonable counter-arguments. The first and foremost is the fact that I’m not sure we want to hold North Korea, Afghanistan, or Iran as paragons of how we want to run the USA.
The two Americans who got eight years for “crossing the Iranian border” were accused by Iran of being spies. We can certainly discuss and debate whether or not they got a fair trial but their crime (innocent or guilty) was only tangentially related to the fact that they crossed the border.
If you cross the US border illegally, you can also get shot. (And by the way, it’s the Afghan border not the “Afghanistan border”. There already are armed guards at places along the southern US border where people might try to cross without getting the proper permissions to do so.
And North Korea. If you do just about anything out of line, you’re likely to get at least ten years. Personally, I think you deserve a medal if you can safely get across the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea. But I digress.
Everything mentioned about crossing the US border illegally is possible, I concede, but let’s remember that illegal immigrants also have no real protections under the law.
You can argue that a job, a place to live, and health care could be a consequence of sitting in prison. So we could also argue that the strawman arguments of crossing into Iran or North Korea also offer these benefits as well.
So let’s talk about all of these items:
— a job. Americans have been complaining about illegal immigrants taking jobs away from citizens almost since the birth of the nation. The jobs immigrants take are often the jobs no one else wants. The ones require the workers to be out in the sweltering sun, doing hard yet menial labor for $1.50 an hour. Is that the kind of job you’d take?
— a drivers license. So what? In order to get a license, you just need to demonstrate that you can operate a motor vehicle and pony up whatever it costs in the state that issues the license. And you know something? Isn’t it in the state’s interest to know where anyone (whether they’re here illegally or not) can be found?
— a place to live. The inclusion of this one in the list bothers me. There was a house near me that had a lot of illegal immigrants in it a few years ago. There was something like 20 or 25 people living in this one house, which was owned by the private individual who employed them all. That many people living in such cramped space is technically “a place to live” but we sometimes treat our animals better. And then the place burned down. Thankfully, no one was killed in the fire but a lot of people got arrested after it did.
— health care. There is a legitimate debate about health reform tied in with this one. Illegal immigrants get health care because it’s illegal for a hospital emergency room to turn anyone away, even if they can’t pay for it. That’s hardly unique for illegal immigrants. The uninsured or underinsured get the same degree of care.
— housing & child benefits. This is redundant between both the “a place to live” and “health care” lines, with a slight addition of the fact that public schools take all sorts of children.
— education. Arguments against education for, well, anyone, are among the most specious ones I’ve heard. Thomas Jefferson once pointed out that an informed electorate is vital to the survival of a democracy. An informed and well-educated electorate can also employ one of the most vital skills a person could need: critical thinking. That helps, among other times, to help figure out (1) when we’re being lied to, or (2) when there’s more to an argument than a simplistic sound bite.
— a tax free business for 7 years. Yeah. Because they’re doing what they’re doing illegally. Is this any different from the tax free business of selling pot or prostitution? You don’t pay taxes on illegal activities because that’s basically a confession of your guilt in the activity itself.
Is immigration reform needed? Absolutely. I know that if I were to meet someone on the street, I wouldn’t necessarily know (and shouldn’t care) whether they were a natural-born citizen, a legal immigrant, or an illegal immigrant.
I think the bigger question is: in a climate that is emboldened by quotes like the one above, where illegal immigrants are sneered at, ridiculed, and occasionally killed for trying to get a better life, what makes the prospect of crossing the border without filing the appropriate paperwork more appealing than doing it properly?
Is the issue truly with the paperwork that differentiates a legal from an illegal immigrant, or is it with the economic circumstances that lead someone to think that leaving quite literally everything behind is worth it?