Much of the country is steadily becoming more mixed, more diverse, and less homogenous than ever before.
Despite this, there are still pockets of the population for whom the question of immigration reform is one met with ambiguity. It may be that you've not had much exposure to the persons affected by our immigration system and laws. It may be that you've not engaged with the political conversations out there about this topic. Or, it may simply be that you're a "rule of law" thinker, and after that, what's left?
Yet, this topic does and will affect you. Starting today, when President Obama announced his reform goals, and continuing on to a mass march on the Capitol in Washington, D.C. on April 10, this subject will be in the public eye, and will likely be a constant in conversations, social media and the news for quite some time.
You do have a dog in this fight, and here's why.
You Understand that Laws and Policies Are Made to Serve Us -- Not Vice Versa
You know that the goal of the systems that our government designs should be to make our society the best it can be, for the collective good. Those systems must change as our society changes, or else they stop serving us and start causing problems. These broken systems must then be repaired. The truth is that our current immigration system is in disrepair. The fact that there are 11 million people living and functioning in our nation today without the right permissions to be here shows this beyond a shadow of a doubt. The fact that this population of our neighbors and classmates has been around for decades shows that the system has aged past its usefulness. Any set of laws that consistently fail to achieve their goal are broken. You understand that immigration laws and policies are no longer serving us as a society.
You Understand that the Rule of Law is Not Absolute -- and Never Should Be
In order to deal with a broken set of laws, we must look at them honestly. The fact is that there are a lot of people in our society who have broken the (itself broken) law in coming or staying in the U.S. without permission. There are also many who were brought to the U.S. as children, therefore breaking no law of their own volition. Some of us in the U.S. will need to make the leap in our heads and/or hearts to deal with this broken law. Some believe that those who have broken immigration law should not be "rewarded" or excused in any way. However, our laws here in the U.S. have never been unbending and absolute.
The people that you and I put into power, such as police officers, judges and other leaders, have the power to be lenient in certain circumstances. I myself have experienced such leniency, and perhaps you have, too. With immigration, the political leaders that we've elected have the power to mitigate the punishment of immigration "crimes" (actually, a civil infraction, and not criminal at all). That's part of the checks and balances that make our society work.
As people with high values, engaged consciences and open minds, we often seek to understand the motivation of those who do things that are against the rule of law. We attempt to understand what would force a man to leave his wife and children to live in the shadows of a society that often vehemently hates him. We attempt to understand the drive of a young woman who leaves the only village she's ever known to risk her very life in a boat passage across the Atlantic. That sensitivity and ability to care for the souls of our fellow humans is part of what sets us apart from other species. You understand that systems and laws are designed by us -- the collective society -- to be temperate when needed.
You Understand That What Benefits Us Affects Others
The truth is that the U.S. has a solid responsibility to shoulder when it comes to immigrant movement. We created some of the migration patterns with our actions. We have a hand in policies, wars, and changing global economics that cause immigration by making the conditions which drive people to move. For example, NAFTA likely benefited your average middle class suburbanite (for example, ease of oil import from Mexico equals lower grocery costs), yet it decimated Mexico's agricultural economy, causing rural farmers to desperately seek opportunity elsewhere. We benefit from the power position that our nation plays in the world, but when a powerful entity places a push or pull on weaker entities, we must take some responsibility for the results of that push-pull. You understand that enjoying the benefits that come from living in the world's most powerful country should come with an equal attempt at being a conscientious global citizen.
You Understand that Immigration Reform Will Strengthen Your Community
Let's go back to that huge number -- 11 million. Right now there are 11 million people who are working, functioning and contributing to the biosphere that is the U.S. They are a living, breathing part of your state, region and community. Right now, immigrants are working as part of your ecosystem in some way -- managing bars, supervising your grocery cashier, providing neighborhood babysitting.
However, many of them are not living the full American life. They may be unable to complete a college education or training program. Some may not have driver's licenses or insurance. They may not be paying all of the taxes that they could be. They may not be pulling their weight at the local PTA or city committees due to fear of exposure.
Bringing the people in your community into legal status means they can more fully realize the contributing role that a community member is supposed to play. In addition, the economic benefit of increased education, increased opportunities and increased buying power is strong, and could move our economy forward by leaps and bounds, heavily defeating weak "they take our jobs" arguments. You understand that fully incorporating the people who are already a part of your community into the full role of a U.S. citizen has benefits for all of us.
You Understand that Strong Families Means a Strong U.S.
The elementary-age children that go to with your children are influencing them every day. The middle schoolers that take the tests your children take contribute to the aggregate scores of your school district. The teens that must make important life-or-death decisions will do so at the same parties and in the same social circles as your high schooler does. When your child's peers suffer from families broken apart by an immigration system that tears fathers from daughters and mothers from sons, your child suffers too. Many, many families in our communities are of mixed status- some members of the family are full U.S. citizens, while some are not. The current (broken) immigration system tears these families apart. It causes children severe trauma and suffering. But not the children that you think: It causes your child severe trauma, because your child's life is affected by the lives of their peers. Your community is the aggregate of the trauma that everyone within the community experiences. When families are broken, all children suffer. When children suffer, communities founder. You understand that strong families build strong communities, and weak families cost everyone.
Co-worker, classroom mother, drinking buddy, teammate: You cannot afford to be ambivalent about this issue. Our nation is at the cusp of correcting a great wrong, fixing a system in disrepair, and sparking a period of economic growth. You must understand that fighting for fair, just, and complete immigration reform is absolutely necessary to the future of your family, your community and your U.S.