Self-righteous overreaction will get you nowhere. True leadership, on the other hand, will take you nearly anywhere you need to go.
Jessica Colotl came to America when she was ten years old. She and her family immigrated here illegally from Mexico. Most of her years in America have been spent in Atlanta, where Jessica earned a 3.8 grade point average in high school and then enrolled at nearby Kennesaw State University. She worked at night to pay her bills. Until she was arrested in late March for a traffic violation that revealed her illegal status.
Local police turned Jessica, 21, over to federal immigration officials. Deportation proceedings were initiated but stopped when Kennesaw State's president intervened, asking for a one-year reprieve for Jessica so she could finish her degree. Jessica also stands accused of lying on her arrest forms at the sheriff's office. Legal authorities say she provided a false address. That issue remains in dispute.
What does not remain in dispute is the remarkable self-righteous overreactions that abound on all sides of the immigration debate now in full bloom.
Self-righteous overreaction describes the stand of those who vehemently insist that Jessica must be deported immediately. They see Jessica as a poster child in their campaign for mass deportation. As if a policy of mass deportation of tens of millions of illegals were even logistically and economically feasible. What was Jessica supposed to do when her parents came here with hope, looking for a better future for their kids? Remain behind in Mexico? Turn 18 and then leave the education and nation she had spent the bulk of her life in? Oh, please.
Jessica's self-righteous critics forget that they each won the birth lottery when they emerged on planet Earth from a womb in America rather than in the Sudan, North Korea, or Venezuela. Humans are humans, and most of us seek opportunity where we can find it. Americans, like me, are most blessed to have been born in the land of the free. I did not earn that. It just arrived on my birth certificate. Self-righteousness is very unbecoming. So a little grace and respect for human dignity never hurt anyone. Compassion is a virtue not a vice.
No one disputes that the federal government has abdicated its primary responsibility for securing our borders and administering a sane, rational immigration policy. America's immigration policies are poorly defined and enforced. In fact, they are usually applied randomly and arbitrarily, even within the same state, depending on which local law enforcement official actually makes the call.
When a leader of any organization fails to define goals and boundaries with clarity, confusion reigns. It is true in families and businesses, and it is certainly true in federal policy toward immigration. That is why Arizona took matters into its own hands. The federal government has failed to do its job, to define the boundaries and expectations, so border states have little choice but to try to institute sanity and order into a chaotic confused issue.
Similar to the response to Jessica's circumstances, the self-righteousness overreaction to Arizona's efforts at immigration sanity abound. Attorney General, Eric Holder, criticizes the Arizona immigration law even though he admits he has never even read it. The bill is ten pages long. Perhaps Mr. Holder could read that over lunch one day when he emerges from the two-year star chamber of debating himself on how to handle enemy combatants. Really, make a decision, and then come back into the nation whose law and order depends on your leadership. Please.
An Illinois school superintendent self-righteously and indignantly prohibits a varsity basketball team from playing in a tournament in Arizona saying he fears for the safety and security of the players given Arizona's new immigration law. So teenage girls will not get to play because a school bureaucrat objects to a law he likely has never read, and a law which essentially seeks to enforce the federal law that is already in place. Overreaction.
What is needed in the micro cases like Jessica Colotl, and the macro cases like Arizona, is more cool-headed reasoning and less knee-jerk overheatedness. Healthy immigration provides the lifeline of America, always has and always will. Most immigrants understand and “get” our freedoms and opportunities better than anyone else. We need immigrants not merely for the gifts and skills they bring but also for the infusion of a renewed embracing of America's core values of freedom and opportunity.
In the absence of meaningful federal immigration policy and its enforcement, local officials are forced to assess situations on a case-by-case basis. Jessica Colotl has done what any American would hope their child would do. Worked hard, excelled at school, and built the foundation for a solid life. She should be allowed to stay.
As Atlanta debates the future of Jessica, and Arizona debates how to enforce its new law, the federal government would do well to step up and lead on the one issue that we need it to do so. Not health care. Not financial reforms. Not global warming. But immigration.
Begin an earnest conversation now by first sealing and securing the borders. President Obama's strategy of reducing the numbers of border patrol members is a step in the wrong direction. Second, work to establish a path to citizenship for those here illegally who pass background checks and are willing to pay all back taxes and fines for any contributions evaded. Offer them a legitimate place at the back of the line for legal status here in America. Finally, set forth a cogent strategy for whom we will admit into this country and how we will do so in the future. Back that up with leadership and resources so that immigration becomes what it should be - our lifeline, rather than what it has become, our great volatile vulnerability.
That requires leadership, not right and left rhetoric. And, unlike with most other issues, this answer can only come from Washington. If there is a leader still there who will stand and point the way out of the thicket and toward the horizon.