News & Election Videos
Related Opinion
Related Topics
Election 2008 Democrats | Republicans | General Election: Heads-to-Heads | Latest Polls


Arellano and the Rule of Law

By Ruben Navarrette

SAN DIEGO -- When I heard that federal immigration agents had arrested and deported Elvira Arellano, a 32-year-old Mexican citizen who brazenly broke our laws and all but dared U.S. authorities to do anything about it, I wondered what the reaction would be from the National Council of La Raza.

Days before, I had received an angry phone call from NCLR President Janet Murguia, accusing me of taking a "cheap shot" by implying in a column that the organization supported open borders because it opposed a plan by the Bush administration to target employers of illegal immigrants. Murguia insisted that the NCLR supports enforcement and she pointed to its lobbying for the Senate compromise which, she reminded me, had an enforcement component.

Yet I've never heard Murguia, or anyone at NCLR, say a positive word about a specific enforcement measure. I thought I'd give them the chance with the Arellano case. So I called and left a message.

As the son of a cop, I'd call this case a slam-dunk. Arellano entered the country illegally a decade ago, was deported, re-entered illegally, and then defied a second deportation order by holing up for months in a Chicago church. Then she took an ego trip by going on a national tour in support of illegal immigrants. Finally, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) nabbed her in Los Angeles. Now her tour is canceled, and she is in Tijuana.

Good. It's a shame that Arellano will be separated from her 8-year-old son, Saulito, who was born in the U.S. and is thus a citizen. But the pain is her doing. She knew the risks and yet she put her son's welfare in jeopardy, not just by being an illegal immigrant but a conspicuous one at that.

This sad tale illustrates the sense of entitlement among those who refuse to follow our rules and then make up their own. That's ironic given that it is a different sort of entitlement that helps draw people here in the first place -- the entitlement that some Americans feel they have to turn up their noses at jobs that wind up being done by illegal immigrants.

My hard line may surprise some. A lot of people wrongly assume that I support illegal immigration. Half the reason comes from my positions -- in favor of comprehensive immigration reform, or against Minutemen vigilantes. The other half comes from rank racism, the assumption by some that I want a fluid border because, as a Mexican-American, I'm leading a reconquista (reconquest) of the Southwest or trying to bring in my relatives.

Don't laugh. One reader wrote: "Your picture looks as if you are Hispanic. Your name sounds Hispanic. You think and act like a Hispanic. You write like a Hispanic. And you espouse Hispanic views over and above American views. Therefore, I can only assume that you are Hispanic and not American."

Actually, I'm both. Just like my Irish or Italian pals in Boston, I refuse to choose. And I'll tell you what they'd tell you: Deal with it.

My call to the NCLR was returned by Vice President Cecilia Munoz, the group's point person on immigration and someone with whom I often agree. Munoz began by insisting again that NCLR isn't opposed to enforcement. What concerns her, she said, is that there doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to our immigration strategy and so this arrest smells of red meat for the anti-immigration mob.

"We have questions about whether going after people one at a time ultimately has much of a payoff in terms of effectiveness," she said. "What's the strategy behind our immigration enforcement? Are we trying to round up everyone and send them out? Because if that is our policy, then we're going to fail."

Then there is Saulito. According to Munoz, the boy makes this story emblematic of a larger problem -- separating families.

"We're not just sort of levitating people out of the country with no impact," she said. "We should be making deliberate judgments about what our immigration priorities are, and I'm not sure that going after workers who are also parents is our most effective strategy. It's certainly not a cost-free strategy."

Or a humane one.

"It is really very upsetting to see parents torn away from their children," she said. "And you wonder: If this is our enforcement strategy, what kind of country are we becoming?"

The same kind of country we've always aspired to be -- one where parents respect their children enough to not put them in harm's way, and where everyone is taught to respect the rule of law.

(c) 2007, The San Diego Union-Tribune

Sphere: Related Content | Email | Print | AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Sponsored Links
 Ruben Navarrette
Ruben Navarrette
Author Archive