There’s no denying immigration is complicated — politically, economically and, perhaps most of all, emotionally. I favor open immigration on practical and philosophical grounds alike: credible research ties immigrants to a rising economy and falling crime rates — and just like I don’t think it’s the government’s job to tell us how to worship or what job to have, I’d also argue where we want to live is none of the state’s business.
But this post isn’t about immigration in that big-picture sense. It’s about one particularly egregious aspect of current immigration police, namely the deportation of immigrants whose most serious offense is coming to America illegally.
Consider, for instance, the story of Joel Colindres. He came to the United States as an undocumented immigrant from Guatemala in his early twenties to escape drug trafficking and crime. Now 33, he’s married to American woman, Samantha, and has two kids, 6-year-old Preston and 2-year-old Lila.
Colindres owns his own home in Connecticut and has been a skilled employee of the same company for 12 years, a remarkable record in this economy, where advancement increasingly requires one to change jobs frequently. He has no criminal record and voluntarily turned himself in to immigration authorities quite soon after coming to the U.S. so he could make his immigration status legitimate.
Now, he’s less than three weeks away from being deported back to Guatemala. He has to buy a plane ticket and tell his kids he’ll be leaving them on August 17.
The immediate reason Colindres is being deported is that more than a decade ago he missed a single court date he never knew he had, because the court sent its summons to the wrong name and address. That Kafkaesque detail in itself is incredibly frustrating — why should this man’s life be ruined over someone else’s paperwork error? — but so is the fact that someone with his story is eligible for deportation at all.
Seriously, how is this a proportionate punishment for this victimless “crime”? Colindres has spent some 13 years as a productive member of our country, and now his entire life (not to mention the lives of his wife and young children) is being turned upside down over nonviolent behavior.
Even if you support punishing someone like Conlindres on rule-of-law grounds, wouldn’t a fine or community service be massively more appropriate given the circumstances?
How will tearing apart this family fix any wrongs Colindres committed? How will leaving these kids at least temporarily fatherless make the United States a better country? How is step toward good culture or economics or governance?
Perhaps the most troubling part of all this is that Colindres’ story is not unique. About half of the illegal immigrants deported in February of this year had, just like Colindres, no criminal record (or even traffic offenses) beyond the initial immigration violation, and there’s no reason to think that month is an outlier.
Today, for example, a mom from Michigan is being deported back to Mexico, leaving behind her three children — all U.S. citizens — after 20 years in America. Even if she or Colindres manage to return, the negative ramifications for these families will be enormous.
What is the positive outcome here? What is the benefit to anyone? How is breaking up families and kicking out productive, nonviolent people helpful to the United States?
As I said above, in this post I’m not making a case for open immigration. My focus is more narrow. It is simply to say that people like Joel Colindres should not be deported, and that when they are, it is a miscarriage of justice, an offense to basic common sense, and a tangible loss for their families and broader communities.
As so often happens in our distorted and disproportionate criminal justice system, the punishment does not fit the crime.