With illegal immigration, compassion supersedes law

John M. Crisp
John M. Crisp

Some things are illegal. And some things are just plain wrong.

Among the latter is the deportation of American citizens’ parents.

Granted, most of these people entered our country illegally. The parents of one of my students a few years ago entered the country by walking through a border checkpoint in Brownsville, Texas, and asking for permission to stay in the United States for two weeks.

The border agents were rude, but gave them permission to stay for six months. They never went back.

Both her parents picked up work. The children went to school and took extra tutorials after class to learn English, and my student helped her parents learn English.

They began to feel like a regular American family, except that a traffic stop for a minor infraction could destroy the life they had made in America.

Of course, their presence in our country is a crime. But it’s a crime that calls for context.

Why did the border agents give my student’s family permission to stay in the U.S. for six months instead of two weeks?

For decades Americans have gone south for goods and services, and cheap labor has flowed to the north.

The border agents knew my student’s family was coming to work, and everyone, at some level, understood their presence to be part of a symbiotic relationship that benefits both countries’ economies and cultures.

For long stretches of time the law is comfortable looking the other way. But occasionally – usually during election years – we look around and are shocked to find we have illegals living among us.

And even though undocumented workers are doing some of our nation’s hardest and least remunerative work in jobs that are otherwise difficult to fill, some of us characterize them as drug dealers and rapists and begin demanding mass deportations. They’re an easy target.

But mass deportations are impossible, and deportations of hardworking, productive, otherwise-law-abiding parents of American citizens is too cruel. Thus, after the inability of Congress to act on immigration, President Barack Obama implemented the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, or DAPA, in order to provide temporary legal protections for families like those of my students.

Twenty-six states cried presidential overreach, including my own, Texas, which has benefitted enormously from Hispanic labor and Hispanic culture. But the case for overreach is by no means clear, and last week an ineffectual Supreme Court split 4-4 on the issue, a non-action that leaves millions of valuable residents in an uneasy limbo.

Certainly, we’re all for the rule of law. But sometimes even the law has to give way to justice and compassion.

John M. Crisp, a Tribune columnist, teaches at Del Mar College. Email: