I was talking with a man the other day who had come to the United States twelve years ago from Mexico. He is self-employed as a sub-contractor in the construction trades. I asked him which trade he specialized in and he described practically all of them. He was willing to work in whatever way was needed for a job; drywall, roofing, carpentry, etc. He and his wife have been in the United States about the same amount of time and they have an eight year old son.
He once had a valid driver’s license as he had been here at one point on a valid immigration status. The status expired and he over-stayed his permission. As a result of now being “out of status,” he is not able to renew his driver’s license. For all of his efforts to work, if he drives to/from work or during work and gets caught, then he could go to jail. In fact, if he is caught two or three times he almost certainly will go to jail. If he goes to jail, the next possibility is that immigration will begin removal proceedings to send him back to Mexico. He will be held in a jail for at least six months being processed out of the country. His wife and son will be left to fend for themselves.
He told me that all he really needs is a driver’s license. If he could just have a driver’s license, then he can work without the worry of driving illegally or being deported. In talking to him, it stuck me just how “normal” he is. He is the same as everyone. He wants to enjoy a life that includes the blessings of a wife and son. He wants the right things for the right reasons. He was neither devious nor rebellious, just stuck.
Critics will certainly point to his decision to “over-stay” his visa as “illegal.” Technically, they are right, although not in the criminal sense. There is no criminal code that addresses this situation. Of course, it is easy to say “well, he should have followed the rules” without a full appreciation for the difficulties, costs and risks of trying to work within the system.
The current primaries have invited incredible efforts from most of the candidates to out-hate the other as it relates to this issue. They gloat that they can build better fences or withhold education to “illegal” children more absolutely than the other. Those claims have drawn some of the loudest cheers during recent debates. I can’t get past the fact that the man, wife and eight year old boy they seek to punish want nothing different from those that cheer the loudest. At least the man who I know wants the right things for the right reasons.