Some of you may have already seen the article in today's Tribune about Armandao Paez, a Colombian immigrant living in Elkhart, Indiana, with his wife. He also has 3 adult children. He worked as a server at a popular Italian restaurant and took on a second job to help put his kids through college.
He was here illegally. His wife and children came here legally but overstayed their visas. For now, his grown children are protected by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
For years, he was required to report to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and was allowed to stay in the country. Until last October, when he was told to buy a plane ticket to his homeland. Officials allowed him to stay until today, May 17th, so he could be there as one of his daughters graduated from college and the other got married.
Somewhat unexpectedly, the community of Elkhart rallied around him, starting a petition last October advocating not only for the deportation order to be stopped, but also for him to be granted American citizenship.
I say "unexpectedly" because the small Indiana town consists primarily of conservatives who voted for Trump, who promised to crack down on illegal immigration.
Elkhart wanted an exception to be made for Paez, citing how hard he's worked to support his family.
Paez also has a years-old DUI on his record, which may have made him more of a target for ICE.
I was surprised at how the community responded. It's a concern, because I know much of Chicago and other places around the country share similar sentiments. They want to see many illegals pardoned.
That could set a dangerous precedent. If you break the law, and then conduct yourself impeccably after that, it doesn't negate the fact that you broke the law. If this guy had been guilty of a serious crime other than crossing the border undocumented, and then lived his life as he has, would they be so quick to defend him? If he had embezzled or burglarized a home without being caught, then worked hard to provide for his family, only to have the crime come to light later, wouldn't we still want to hold him accountable? I hope so.
The Tribune report quoted Paez as saying, "Always being responsible, buying our little house, investing here-- it was all for nothing...This is the best country in the world, but it has too many inhumane problems. That's the word-- too inhumane.
He needs to take responsibility for the fact that he did not go through the proper channels to come here. Our error has not been in deporting him, it's been in letting him stay this long without consequences. I'm not sure how long he's been here, but it's been at least 15 years, time enough to give him the impression he could evade deportation.
Enter Hans von Spakovsky, senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation. He summed up my thoughts on the case exactly. He said that regardless of how "nice" they are, people who are undocumented don't have the right to be here at all. It's unfair to those who have gone through the red tape and paperwork to be here legally.
He went on to say, "If this guy is such a great guy, why didn't he apply to come here like the i million [people] a year we're bringing into the country legally."
Thank you. It's true. Why even go through the proper channels if you can break the law and get rewarded?
Von Spakovskly is also quoted as saying, "What makes this country different is we are a country based on the rule of law. We don't treat people differently under rule of law because we like them or because one guy is a blue-collar worker or one guy is a whit-collar worker in a big Wall Street Firm."
I think we've forgotten that. Sure, it's convenient when you're petitioning for leniency when it's some one you like. But there are situations where that can play out in ways that are dangerous. To some degree it's happening already.
Think of cases where a college or professional athlete commits a crime and is given barely a slap on the wrist because the judge is a fan of that player or his team. Think about people who get out of routine traffic tickets or other violations because they're related to a cop, or perhaps members of the force themselves.
Hearing about such cases makes us indignant, because the misapplication of the law doesn't affect us personally, other than to evoke a sense of injustice. We want them to be held accountable.
It should be no different when we see justice being meted out to some one we know and like. What many people want, whether they admit it or not, is rule based on sentiment, which leads to all kinds of corruption and unethical behavior. We tend not to look at it that way unless it effects us personally or we recognize it as a threat to our own liberty.
It's alarming enough that Elkhart wanted to see an illegal immigrant allowed to stay, but to push for his citizenship? Citizenship is a privilege. True, those of us who are born here didn't earn it, so it's easy to take for granted. Still, it's not something to be taken lightly. It's one thing to let an undocumented person stay here, but to vest them with all the rights and privileges of citizenship-- voting, holding positions and offices normally reserved for American citizens-- is watering down, cheapening, what it means to be a citizen. Citizenship s something to be proud of, not something we hand out based on our feelings. Certainly, it shouldn't be a reward for breaking the law.
One final point: In defense of Paez and others like him, an Elkhart business owner said, "There's so many jobs in this area that without immigrants, the work wouldn't be getting done."
Many illegals work under the radar for cash under the table to avoid detection. Most Americans wouldn't perform most of the work illegals do. Would undocumented residents still do the same kinds of jobs if they were allowed to come out from hiding and apply for legitimate employment?
And why won't Americans do the kind of work illegals are doing? That entrepreneurs's statement says more about what's lacking in the American work ethic and culture than it does about the so-called "virtue" of illegal immigrants. Certainly, it doesn't justify allowing them to stay.
Unless they pose significant hazards in violation of OSHA standards, perhaps we need to start taking some of those jobs so we can stop creating a "market" for illegal immigrant labor. Just a thought.