Nineteen years after completing our journey from Egypt to this great country, we had the opportunity to be sworn in as American citizens on May 12, 1995. Our son, Ramez, however, was living in Seattle at that time and had requested to have his swearing-in ceremony in Seattle. But that request delayed him for two years. I advised Ramez at that time to be extra careful not to be involved in any activity that could violate any laws, such as participating in demonstrations – even if they were for a noble cause. I was concerned that even a simple violation, such as being in a peaceful demonstration, could result in his deportation.
This event came to my mind as I was reading about the proposed law, the Illinois Way Forward Act, coming from the Illinois General Assembly that would close all immigration detention centers in the state and prohibit the local and state police force from cooperating with the federal authorities regarding any law violation by illegal immigrants (yes, they are illegal, not undocumented). This law is extremely shortsighted and not beneficial to immigrants, legal or illegal.
What the proposed law essentially dictates is the fracture of the law enforcement system in the country, with severance of the cooperation between federal, state, and local police when it comes to dealing with illegal immigrants. The question is: What is expected of this proposed law to achieve? All law enforcement agencies are created to serve the law-abiding citizens and protect them from those who break the law. But now, the lawmakers of our state are proposing a law to encourage breaking the same laws that they are sworn to protect.
As a legal immigrant, I was always aware that in order for me to stay in this country legally, I should abide by the laws of the land at every level. I was acutely aware that any legal infraction would carry a hefty price to pay, including possible deportation. Even up to this minute, I have always advised our relatives and friends who are in the process of becoming American citizens to be absolutely, positively sure not to break any law in any way. That is the understanding of most legal immigrants. So, why are we encouraging illegal immigrants not only to break the immigration laws but other laws as well?
Apparently, an analysis by the Transactional Records Access Clearing house at Syracuse University showed that 40% of those detained at the immigration detention centers had some previous convictions, and 11% were convicted of serious crimes such as rape, assault or even murder. I personally think these numbers are frightening, but others feel that it is not a big deal. What logic is that?
I don’t understand why the lawmakers and our governor would want to protect individuals who violate our laws, federal, state, or local. When it comes to ordinary citizens, the laws do not endorse any violation of law application. But some want to waive these laws for illegal immigrants. Does that make any sense? I am in full support of those illegal immigrants on a humanitarian basis. But I do not endorse treating them as a separate class, above the law.
How could the lawmakers tell all of us to follow and respect the law, while they are telling a group of illegal immigrants that it is OK for them to break the law and that we will not help the federal government to prosecute and apprehend those who break the law?
One of the major demands of the demonstrations after George Floyd’s murder was to ensure equal treatment of all people under the law, regardless of their skin color, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation. Then how could we support equal treatment of everyone under the law, while excluding a certain group of people from being judged by the same law?
Even if the motive for this law is to protect this vulnerable group of people, the net effect will be counterproductive. There is a possibility that ordinary citizens will be resentful of not only the illegal immigrant but also of the legal ones. Sometimes it is difficult to differentiate between who is here legally and who is not.
I would urge all the citizens of this great state of Illinois to call on their lawmakers and the governor and tell them to please have common sense and stop this nonsense. While they think they are protecting those here illegally, they are hurting all immigrants, legal or not.