Anyone who spends much time trying to sort through the complex issues and equities associated with immigration policy becomes almost numb to the ceaseless repetition of convention narrative memes. Most illegal-immigrant narratives reflect either exculpation or empathetic explanation: Illegal immigrants are here because they do the jobs that Americans don't want to do. They are here because they only seek a better life, and who can criticize them for wanting that for themselves and their families? Illegal immigrants pay their taxes. And so on.
Therefore it is a matter of note when a front-page immigration story in one of the country's major newspapers allows a sentiment to slip out that is rarely if ever heard.
The story is titled, "In Arizona, an illegal immigrant and her family face a stark choice." The story concerns the desperate situation of one illegal immigrant from Mexico, Viridiana, a woman who married an American citizen and had a child by him, but also is the mother of an illegal-immigrant child from a previous marriage. She is trying to reach a decision about whether to stay in Phoenix after strong public support for the recently passed immigration bill has made her feel that her position more precarious.
Reporter Stephanie McCrummen writes in explanation that, "At least five other states and more cities and towns have introduced similar legislation and, in this election season, politicians are blaming illegal immigrants for everything from crime to the festering economic malaise."
No wonder Viridiana worries "about the air of vigilantism she feels taking hold." The article notes that, "among Hispanic families, the mood is one of nervousness verging at times on paranoia." Rumors feed her apprehension. She hears, "that public bus drivers are asking passengers for papers; that landlords are evicting tenants who can't prove they are citizens; that the sheriff is going to start sweeping for illegal immigrants at Food City, where Viridiana used to shop, or at soccer fields like the one across the street."
Her choices are narrow. Her husband, whom she met on a bus, had been a heroin addict and had spent time in jail. He is now unemployed.
She spends her days inside her apartment feeling that it is too dangerous to venture out much. Perhaps she will return to Mexico, but she fear that the medical care for her disabled five-year old son may not be adequate. She might "join the quiet exodus underway, with families heading to New Mexico, California and other states where they might find a relative and a place they can live without worry." Or she might try "a tiny town called Moses Lake, in Washington state, which she knows almost entirely from phone conversations with an aunt who has been urging her to come there since the trouble in Arizona began."
Her choices are narrow, their outcomes uncertain, and the article invites readers to consider this immigrant's sad plight in some detail, a plight brought about by the blame being heaped on illegal immigrants "for everything from crime to the festering economic malaise."
Given the poignant circumstances of Viridiana's predicament and the obvious responsibility, according to the story, of anti-illegal immigrant sentiment in causing it, it comes as almost a shock when Viridiana is allowed, in print, to reject the obvious victim status being presented for her.
Whom does she really blame for her predicament? The story reports that "She blames politicians for the dilemma before her, but she also blames herself." And we now arrive at the very essence of her narrative reversal.
She says, "I came here illegally. I crossed without permission. I committed a crime. That's one thing attached to me. I can't get rid of it." (emphasis added).
Can you imagine? A major newspaper runs a front-page story in which an illegal immigrant takes some responsibility for the circumstances she faces. Bravo for them both.
So it now becomes clear that it is entirely possible that Viridiana's dire circumstances are not primarily the result of the public "blaming illegal immigrants for everything from crime to the festering economic malaise" or even "the air of vigilantism she feels taking hold." These things are all a consequences of the fact that Viridiana, and millions of others like her, "came here illegally…without permission."
It is to her credit that Viridiana recognizes this and is willing to directly voice her responsibility for these circumstances.
One only wishes that advocates for legalization of the millions of other Viridianas were brave and honest enough to do the same thing.