Being Illegal

Jose Manuel Godinez-Samperio was 9 years old when his parents, travelling on tourist visas, brought him  with them from Mexico to the U.S.  They never returned to Mexico.

Jose went on to become the valedictorian of his high school and an Eagle Scout.  He attended the prestigious New College of Florida and later Florida State Law School, from which he graduated with honors.

In 2008 the Florida Bar imposed a requirement on bar applicants that they show proof of citizenship in order to take the bar exam.  In 2011 the Bar granted an exemption to Jose and he passed the exam on his first try.

But after Jose had passed the exam and satisfied all the moral fitness requirements the Bar asked the Florida Supreme Court, in December 2011, whether it could lawfully admit an undocumented immigrant (aka an “illegal” immigrant).  The U.S. Department of Justice intervened in the case, arguing that federal law prohibits states from issuing bar licenses to “unlawfully present aliens.”  At least 3 former presidents of the Florida Bar have publicly opposed the position being taken by the DOJ.  In April the Florida Supreme Court declined to give any advisory opinion on the matter.  As of now Jose, who was truthful about his status in all of his applications, is still not admitted and perhaps never will be.

My wife’s niece lives in Texas.  A few years ago she married a Mexican-American man.  After they were married he applied for insurance, using the social security number his parents had told him many years ago was his.  Unbeknownst to him, he had actually been brought to America by them as an infant and the SSN was bogus.  His parents had never told him.

He was arrested and deported–dropped over the border into a country he had never visited. Fortunately he was able to connect with relatives in Mexico City, so he had a place to live.  My wife’s niece was able to travel to Mexico City from time to time to see her husband, who had lived almost his entire life in the U.S., and who went to and graduated from American schools.  His crime was that as an infant his parents brought him into the U.S. without permission or the proper paperwork.  Very recently he was allowed to return to the U.S. to be with his wife.  I’m not sure what his current status is or whether he’ll be allowed to stay.

Deportations have doubled under the Obama administration, to about 400,000 per year.

There is a story behind every deportation and every privilege denied.  Perhaps in many cases justice is being served.

But “justice” is not the word I would apply to situations like those I’ve described.

In those cases and those like them, something is broken.

15 comments on “Being Illegal

  1. The great weakness of institutions (religious, governmental, financial, educational, etc) is their necessary habit of framing everyone and everything collectively. A tragic weakness it is. Because spirits (i.e.people) come in infinite sizes. This is old news, of course. But the lives burdened or ruined are always new.


  2. Bob Braxton says:

    injustices are two-fold: 1) labor, unlike capital, is not free to cross “national” borders; 2) inequity which makes coming into the United States so attractive. The particular family that I know is from Kenya and came here for theological studies. A lot who come never leave. This inequity is not only country to country but growing much, much worse by the year internally, as became clear in the most recent presidential election cycle. Although maybe not technically the top 1% my spouse and I certainly fall closer to that measured in income (even in retirement). The “rich young ruler” went away and Jesus was sad because “he had many possessions” as do we.


    • Bill says:

      Yep. And the trade and agricultural policies of our country contribute to destroying agriculture in places like Mexico, driving Mexican farmers to leave their farms to come work here as day laborers.


  3. El Guapo says:

    Hopefully at some point, the conversation about immigration in our gov’t will be held between sane rational people, instead of the screaming rhetoricians who are bellowing today.

    And now I’m probably back on an NSA watchlist.


    • Bill says:

      I join you in that hope. But that would require more political courage than we probably have reason to expect anytime soon.

      As for being watched by the NSA, I reckon that’s something we’re all just going to have to get used to.


  4. shoreacres says:

    I fear it’s not a matter of “something” being broken. It’s more the fact that nearly everything is broken in our immigration system – and many of the assumptions people make about who’s on which side of which fence often are wrong.

    Some of the people I know who are most vehemently opposed to amnesty are people who have come here from Mexico and Central America, started the process of legalization and then waited…and waited…and waited… to be granted citizenship. They resent the thought of others cutting in line. Can’t say as I blame them.

    Then, of course, we have the problems associated with providing health care and education (along with all the other social services) to people who already are here illegally. While it’s lovely to think we can give everything to everyone, the fact is that many Texas school districts can’t support their burgeoning school age population on stagnant tax bases, and hospital emergency rooms are overrun. When my mother still was alive, her doctor made it quite clear that, if I thought she needed to go to the emergency room, I should call an ambulance. It was the only way to guarantee her being seen in a timely manner.

    I have a couple of friends who are engineers, and who often do field work. If they go anywhere within two hundred miles of the border, they’re required to be armed. The presence of Mexican drug gangs in Houston is a huge problem – I’d no more go into certain neighborhoods than I’d make a run to Monterrey. That doesn’t mean that Mexicans are violent people, or that they don’t have the same fears and concerns that we do – but as another friend said, “Once you’ve come across a pile of bodies in the street, you’d just as soon not see it again, especially in your neighborhood.”

    El Guapo sidled up to the real issue in his comment. There are people on every side of this issue who are intent on using it to their personal advantage, rather than seeking useful solutions. My personal recommendation? Send Congress down to live in, say, Cuidad Juarez or Chihuahua for six months, minus their security details. Given the statistics, that just might help.


    • Bill says:

      Any system of laws that would deny Jose Godinez-Sampiero the privilege to practice law, or that would deport the husband of Cherie’s niece, is a broken system, in my opinion. These young men broke no law. They are assets to our country, not liabilities. While it is true that they were able to attend public schools here, there is no reason to believe their parents weren’t contributing to the tax base. In our community, even with one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation, the most undesirable jobs are typically held by Mexicans. Employers, especially farmers, prefer them over native labor. At least here, they’re funding the tax base to support natives who are unemployed. For what it’s worth, because he was ineligible for financial aid, Jose’s college was paid for by his own funds and by private scholarships.

      As for the rampant crime in Mexico, I’m not sure if that is evidence to restrict immigration or to more liberally allow it. Either way, there is nothing that I’m aware of to connect these two young men to the Mexican drug war (which exists because of U.S. demand for drugs and U.S. anti-drug laws).

      I have a record by a Houston rapper named “Big Snap” in my collection. No doubt his family has been in this country for many generations. If what he says about his neighborhood on this record is true, then Congress wouldn’t need to go all the way to Chihuahua to learn an important lesson.

      I’d prefer that we wipe out borders, as they’ve done in Europe. Let labor and capital move freely to where the demand exists. But of course I know that won’t happen anytime soon. In the meantime I’d settle for some commonsense. Last year our government deported over 13,000 unescorted minors. In my humble opinion that’s just wrong, no matter how it’s sliced.


  5. Our family has just such an example. Our oldest son was engaged to a girl who was born in Romania, but had lived in the US since she was a toddler. She didn’t speak Romanian and was hoping to become a doctor. Her parents both worked hard, paid taxes, owned a nice home in the suburbs, and were assiduously doing everything their expensive lawyer told them to do. They were rounded up before dawn by ICE agents. The house was empty except for an elderly grandmother with cancer, whose papers were in order, and their pets. They were separated, held in privately run detention facilities, could only talk on the phone minutes a day (costing anyone who called easily $35 for a short call, again run by a private company), and despite their lawyer’s assurances, were deported. People don’t recognize that their ancestors came to this country and had easy access to citizenship without any of this insanity.


    • Bill says:

      Just disgusting. No doubt the agents came in wearing all their SWAT gear. I’m very sorry for all who were affected by this. How we can allow, and even encourage, these kinds of things in our society is beyond me.

      As for the for-profit prisons which are taking over in our prison-happy culture, that is another sad comment on our current state of affairs. I’ve come to believe that the security-industrial complex is even more dangerous than its military-industrial complex cousin.


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