THE BLOG
10/02/2011 10:52 pm ET | Updated Dec 02, 2011

Immigration vis-à-vis Illegal Immigration

I was watching Up with Chris Hayes on MSNBC this morning. A good part of the show was dedicated to illegal immigration. Although, as is often the case, sometimes there seemed to be no distinction between illegal immigration and immigration.

There is a lot of discussion about immigration these days -- largely due to the fact that there is an election coming up and that there are various state laws going into effect that are very aggressive.

I am for immigration. It is America's beginning, the foundation of our past success and a critical component of our future success. How to fix our immigration policy, what the rules should be, what the quotas should be, what the criteria should be, how these policies should be enforced -- all good questions that need to be addressed, the sooner the better.

I am against illegal immigration. I am a rule-follower by nature. I don't try to take oversize carry-ons on the airplane. I stay in the crowded "exit only" lane rather than barrel down the clear lane and cut into the exit lane at the last minute. I believe in the "zipper" when merging to go into the Lincoln Tunnel. I don't like it when people cut in, when people feel entitled, when people indulge in behavior that would cause chaos for everyone, were everyone to engage in that behavior. I don't like it when people take advantage of the fact that the majority of other people are also rule-followers.

So, to me, illegal immigrants are line-jumpers and ruin things for legal immigrants. They give immigrants a bad rap. They hurt the people who are waiting their turn by allowing the people who are against immigration (not just against illegal immigration) to paint everyone with the same brush. They give those who are anti-immigration an easy target and a way to obfuscate the issue of immigration.

I was and am against a blanket amnesty, such as the one passed in 1986, under Ronald Reagan. I think that leads illegal immigrants to come and just wait it out, expecting that there will be another blanket amnesty, in the future. And I don't like the idea of rewarding people who knowingly broke the law.

Yes, I am against illegal immigration, in general.

But not in particular. If you know any illegal immigrants -- well, of course you know them -- but if you know them well enough to learn their stories, I would guess that you would find them admirable and their stories very moving.

A few years ago, I was asking a group of Hispanic women about how they came to America and why. What they endured to get here would both inspire you and break your heart. Scared 18-year-old girls who lived in very small towns left their families (using money their families had saved to pay "coyotes" to take them across). They were taken by people they did not know to places they'd never been, in secret, frightening circumstances, leaving behind everything and everyone they'd known and loved -- all in the hopes of a better life. That cannot be anything but admirable and inspirational -- even for a rule-follower like me.

On a personal, one-to-one level, I don't want these women to be forced to leave what is now their home; forced to leave their jobs and communities; and, in many cases, forced to decide whether to leave their children here or take them back with them.

Think about your immigrant grandparents or great-grandparents. Think about what inspired or drove them to leave their home, to leave behind everything they knew and loved and to take that huge leap of faith to come to America. What if there was no opportunity for them to come here legally? Would they have come illegally? I think my grandparents would have. I have to admit that I hope they would have.

We all understand that immigration is a multifaceted, complex issue with significant social and economic impact. We need a fair, humane and enforceable way to deal with our illegal immigrants that also works for legal immigrants, for US citizens and for America's businesses and future. Yes, easy to say, hard to do. But the bipartisan Dream Act seems like a good place to start.