There's a lot of tough talk about immigration: Build a wall. Get Mexico to pay for it. Mass deportations. Self-deportation. Bad hombres. You name it.
It's gotten so bad that immigration is now a fighting word. We have entire political dogmas based on Orwellian phrases like "undocumented worker", "illegal alien," and "comprehensive immigration reform." Our president-elect built his entire campaign on it.
But, like most things, a lot changes when you actually meet real people affected by it. And that's what happened to me yesterday.
I went to visit two new members of our church congregation. They are a beautiful, young, newly married couple who just rented a little house in South Austin. I will call them Jenny and Javier. When I got there, Jenny was making her second Sunday dinner—lasagna—for Javier and was worried about the burning smell coming from their oven. The house was decorated with the cute little knick knacks one only gets at wedding receptions.
Jenny was born and raised in the gilded Seattle suburb of Bellevue, Washington. She is studying to get her nursing degree. Javier is from Mexico. He is handsome, articulate, and works hard starting his own home remodeling company. He looks like he could bench 280.
He is also illegal or, depending on who you're talking to, undocumented.
Javier came to the United States with a so-called H2B Visa to work as a temporary seasonal worker. Most of these visas require you to leave the United States after a year and no more than three. But, like a lot of workers, Javier stayed. He found new work, a better place to live, and a better life. Eventually, he found Jenny.
If Javier left the country now, he would be prohibited from returning for 10 years as a penalty for his overstay. So he's stuck. He can't leave and he can't get citizenship. He can't get a real job because his immigration status prevents it. So this hard-working, smart, capable young man sits in limbo, remodeling people's bathrooms.
If you talk to a hard-core Trump supporter, the answer is: "Don't matter. He is here illegally and he needs to be deported. It's his fault he broke the law and it's Jenny's fault for marrying an illegal immigrant. They both knew what they were getting into and now they have to pay the consequences."
But if you talk with anyone (including me) who is capable of psychological empathy, the answer is a lot more difficult. Did Javier break the law? Well, technically yes, but kind of like we all break the law when we drive 40 in a 35. It's not that big a deal. It's understandable. And it's certainly understandable now that's he's married to Jenny.
Luckily, there's a way for Javier to get back in the clear. He can apply to correct his overstayed visa. It's risky, because if his application is rejected (and he's got to be worried about what a Donald Trump-run Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency will do), he will be deported. If it's accepted, he will have to start the long (and very expensive) process of becoming a permanent resident (a "green card").
It's the right thing to do. And it's a whole lot more complicated than just "build a wall and deport them all."