When we lived in Texas, we knew a family that we stayed in relationship with for many years. We first met the mother and then her daughter, “Juanita.” Juanita is in her twenty’s and is married with two children. Her husband maintains steady employment in the construction field and they own the home that they live in. Juanita moved to Texas from Mexico with her parents when she was a little girl and has grown up there.
A few years ago, Juanita’s father died in Mexico and she wanted to go to the funeral. The dilemma is that she was brought to the United States without proper documentation and, as such, is does not have U.S. documentation. With that in mind, she risked a great deal to go to Mexico to attend her father’s funeral.
Her children (who are citizens of the United States based on the fact that they were born here) stayed in Texas so you can imagine her motivation to get back to the United States following the funeral. She got turned back on her first attempt to illegally cross into Texas. On her second attempt, she packed her clothes in a plastic bag to keep them dry and swam in her underwear across the Rio Grande river. She went through this ordeal to return to her family and the only life she had known since she was in elementary school.
Opinions will range from empathy to outrage and may go as far as to take exception with the citizenship of Juanita’s children (which is mandated by the Constitution of the United States). Some will attempt to theoretically calculate what Juanita’s family and those like hers cost “us” in health care benefits. Some people will determine that her husband is “taking” jobs that would be higher paying to citizens of the United States. Some won’t like the fact that they can own property.
This is a tough issue, we can all agree. The borders need to be secure if for no other reason, for the sake of security given the world climate especially evident since 09/11. We need to be a country of laws which are respected and enforced, no doubt about it. Economics matter and there needs to be equity and justice in services provided.
We also need to be a nation of decency and common sense. Juanita, by reason of her age, did nothing wrong in being raised in Texas; it wasn’t her choice but that of her parents. By reason of her humanity, it would be difficult to condemn her for either going to her father’s funeral or crossing the river illegally to return to her family. Before we judge too harshly, it is reasonable to consider, “what would I do?”
Recently, there was proposed legislation called the “Dream Act” in front of Congress that failed to get passed which would have solved the problem by providing avenues for legal status to undocumented residents who were brought to this country as minors. Was that decision by our policy makers an accurate reflection on our nation’s attitude towards people like Juanita and, if so, are we really as decent as we claim?