As for their parents, I am not sure since I never asked. There is a good chance, though, that some of my friends’ parents or other relatives entered the United States illegally. Did that fact ever play into my interactions with them? Of course not.
In my 33 years, I can think of only one person I have ever known who I am quite sure was an illegal immigrant. She was a woman in her 40s with a husband, young son and another baby on the way. She spoke no English, though we communicated on my residual knowledge of high school Spanish class. I ate dinner at her house several times, took a family portrait for her and always enjoyed her company — or at least as much of it as I could understand. I feel like my life is a little more complete for having known her and getting to peer into her world, even if only in passing.
But take all that away — the friendly but fragmented conversations, the cross-cultural trust and delicious, authentic Mexican cooking — and she becomes a number in the estimated 12 to 20 million such illegals in America. In the eyes of the new Arizona law, she becomes one of the people who will be stopped by authorities and asked to prove she is here legally. And when it comes down to it, she has broken the law. She sneaked in and is living here in violation of current immigration laws.
Does this make her a criminal? Was she on the street selling crack or robbing stores? Wreaking havoc in her community? Last time I knew, she was cleaning offices and living a normal, apartment-dwelling life like so many legal Americans.
As far as I knew, she never did anything that would catch the eye of law enforcement. But under a law such as Arizona’s, she is Public Enemy No. 1, not because she totes a gun or deals to school kids, but because she appears Hispanic and speaks only Spanish.
But has she robbed the system of legitimately earned tax money? It is possible that she received some assistance because she had a child, but she paid the same sales taxes on her groceries or excise taxes on her gasoline that I now pay. Perhaps her employer skipped out on some payroll taxes by hiring her, so the employer needs to be punished equally. My friend would have been more of a “drain on society” by starving and being homeless than by getting a job and having money to spend.
America needs to deal with the opportunity for a better life it has created and sold to the wanting masses in other countries. With the immigration comes poverty and crime, which is plaguing Arizona, but if it was not illegals taking the woefully underpaying jobs, it would be someone else living in squalor and committing the heinous deeds. The only difference would be if the offenders were caught there would be no way to deport them.
Fortunately, I think this law has no chance of standing up in court. With the discrimination inherent in its enforcement, lawyers will race to be the first to bring a suit and have it struck down at the Supreme Court — not for moral reasons but because of the free publicity. And publicity was likely the motivation for Arizona lawmakers: A law such as this does more to highlight the need for reform than it does to actually fix the problem.
Or at least I hope so, because if laws like this stick and catch on, I’d lose more than a wonderful cook. I’d lose a friend.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go practice my Spanish.
Nathan Orme is the editor of the Sparks Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.