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No human being is illegal

September 26, 2006

That is a favorite slogan of immigrants-rights activists who have been parading with us since last February, when the Day Without an Immigrant Coalition held its first rally in downtown Philadelphia. 

Just a few minutes ago, a young Brazilian immigrant came in to our office for help with his Workers Compensation claim.  He hadn’t received his insurance check on its usual mailing date and wanted to know why.  After calling his claims representative and reinstating his claim (it had lapsed earlier than it should have), a visible expression of relief loosened the tense muscles on the young man’s face.  He hasn’t been able to work since last spring, when he broke both feet in a fall on the construction site where he’d been working; but he has bills to pay here and family to support back home, so the insurance money was essential to the survival of several people. 

People who oppose illegal immigration solely on the grounds that people should not be able to break our laws without punishment would sooner send this man back to Brazil–broken feet and all–than have him claim insurance dollars under a Tax ID Number instead of a Social Security Number (which he does not have since he is here illegally).  He is not, however, breaking any laws in claiming Workers Compensation from his employer, who under law must provide insurance for any and all workers he or she employs regardless of their immigration status.  He is simply going by a much higher law:  a moral law that requires him to care for his family no matter what measures he must take to do so.

And the measures he had to take were surely intimidating.  While I waited on the phone to speak with a claims representative at SWIF, we chatted about the places we had each been to in Brazil, I having been to the south and he having come from the central-west.  Neither of us had seen much of Sao Paulo except for the international airport, however he added one key piece of information that distinguishes our experiences:  he had also seen Sao Paulo from a hotel room, where, if his experience is like most other Brazilian immigrants, he waited in anxiety for several nights while coyotes arranged his flight north to the Mexican border, where he would subsequently be forced to cross the brutal desert to finally make it to the United States.  He made this journey with strangers–or perhaps with an acquaintance from his home town–without any guarantee that he would even make it.

Would you send this young man back to Brazil, to the desperate quality of life that motivated such a treacherous journey?  I certainly would not.  I would change our immigration laws to make this heroic young man legal.


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