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Illegal immigration is a problematic thing. Like other controversial issues, there is a gray area that neither side of the debate is willing to address with much earnestness. Those in favor of tougher immigration are quick to cite economic benefits and the opposing side is only too eager to refute their claims with equally persuasive rhetoric. As effective as one’s argument may be, it all seems especially futile in the face of innocent illegal children, who often crossed the border without say or choice.

Even Gov. Brewer, who issued an executive order to deny illegal immigrants driver licenses last Tuesday, agrees: “Everybody in Arizona (and) across the country has compassion for those children that have been brought here illegally by their parents.” Those of us who enjoy the luxury of citizenship look forward to owning a car, eager to experience the freedoms outside our parents’ house for, perhaps, the first time. Even the dread we encounter as we wait in long lines at the DMV, as we study for the dreadful permit test, seem vaguely thrilling, as they become merely minor steps we take to reach an important milestone in every young person’s life.

And yet illegal immigrants — peers with whom we share more similarities than differences — won’t get to enjoy these same experiences. The thirst for freedom is similar, though. After all, these immigrants are well-acquainted with American culture and have developed American tastes and values. Illegal immigrants long for a time when they can live their lives simply and freely, without their parents — and the government — breathing over their necks. But the questions they ask are more complicated than “Who has the right-of-way at a four way stop?”

The illegal immigrant asks: “Where can I go without worrying about deportation, arrest, not to mention insensitive criticism from my peers?”

They have been excluded from layers of decision-making since the moment they crossed the border. While their status is “illegal,” should they be defined by their parents’ choices? Should they be labeled illegal on account of their parents’ illegal decisions?

This is the gray territory that is understandably challenging for every reasonable person to address. And the gray area doesn’t stop there. When the opportunity to create a better and safer life for your family arises, emigrating — legally or not — doesn’t require a second thought.

While illegal immigration is still an issue that affects Americans, we must begin to think of illegal immigrants as people, and not as unfortunate problems that plague society. When we can address the gray areas of immigration more directly, we can begin to design more compassionate and productive policies that address immigration more effectively.


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