Immigrant Stories by Christopher Kerosky - Why Don't They Come the RIGHT Way? - August 2019
A few readers have responded to my recent columns with something I’ve heard many times from those who try to justify Donald Trump’s policies and rhetoric on immigration: “I’m not against people coming here, I just want them to do it the right way.”
The Christian pastor John Pavlovitz has a perfect response:
“The ‘right way’ is a phrase used by people who’ve never experienced true desperation.
The “right way,” is a telling symptom of inherited privilege that was born insulated from extreme poverty and violence.
The “right way,” is the rally cry of someone who’s never been faced with the kind of urgency that leaves you utterly hopeless.
The “right way,” is what selfish people say when they don’t want other people to have what they’ve been handed with a birth certificate.
If your house is engulfed in scorching flames and you’re trying to escape, what’s the “right way” to leave? The only way you can."
The Right Way is not right at all
And there’s a few other facts rarely mentioned when politicians and others denounce those who came here illegally:
First, under our current immigration laws, the "right way" takes 23 years if you’re from Mexico (waiting period for sponsorship through parent and sibling categories)— approximately twice as long as it takes if you're from virtually any other country in the world.
And the "right way" — if you came here from Mexico without a visa and you marry a U.S. citizen-- requires that you leave the country for 10 years, even if you were brought here across the border as a child; whereas if you're European, you didn't need a visa to come here at all, and you can live and work illegally here for decades and get a green card here when you marry a citizen; no pardon necessary, no need to leave the country, all is forgiven automatically.
And there is no “right way” if you went home to Mexico to visit a dying parent or to attend a funeral of a relative and re-entered illegally when we didn't seem to care about such things. In that case, you're barred forever -- even if you have a U.S. citizen spouse or child or both (known as "permanent bar").
And the "right way" also doesn't include the possibility of being sponsored for your papers through work -- even though there are millions of jobs filled by the undocumented Mexican worker — unless you work for a large corporation with a six-figure salary, then we're glad to have you.
In short, the "right way" is another way of saying: we've created laws that discriminate against Mexicans and Central Americans so that we can purposely keep them out and we want to continue keeping them out, no matter what conditions of persecution and poverty are causing them to flee their home countries.
The “Law-Breaker” argument
We forget that our ancestors largely came without documents too; most didn’t have visas or green cards. Most didn’t come “the right way”. But we don’t refer to them as law-breakers; we honor their courage and celebrate their drive to seek a better life here. Why is our attitude so different toward darker-skinned immigrants from Latin America?
The other thing lost on many is that the majority of undocumented immigrants from Mexico came to the U.S. more than 20 years ago. They came at a time when our borders were not really enforced. Many clients have reported to me that when they were caught trying to come across, the border patrol agents told them: “Sorry we had to stop you. Good luck, tomorrow. You’ll probably make it through then.”
For many years, we had a sort of don’t ask, don’t tell policy toward undocumented immigrants: We’ll pretend you’re legally here because we need your labor as long as you don’t tell us otherwise.
As a result, migrants came across a porous border to fill jobs that Americans didn’t want. Over years, they built their lives here, married and raised families; often bought homes or started businesses. Their children grew up with dreams like your children and mine. And now, decades later, we want to tell them they are law breakers and they should abandon all that and go home.
We are better than that
There is a way to have sensible but humane immigration policies without having open borders. We can adopt rational policies and procedures for considering asylum claims by those fleeing persecution without letting everybody in. We can have a system that encourages family unification and still imposes limits on immigration.
Donald Trump is just wrong. It’s neither right nor American to tell families here for decades or single mothers fleeing terror south of the border that they should just return to their “shit-hole countries”. I believe that America is better than that. I believe that most Americans want America to be better than that.