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The Impossible Case of Sandoval-Perez

A Commentary By Froma Harrop

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The story of Josue Noe Sandoval-Perez, an illegal immigrant recently deported back to his native Mexico, perfectly captures the chaos of our broken immigration system -- and for all sides of the debate. Settled in this country for 16 years, Sandoval-Perez appears to have been the good father and hard worker his champions portray. But his dilemma does not offer an argument for ignoring the country's immigration laws.

Along with millions of others, Sandoval-Perez came here and stayed here because of general scorn for those very laws, on the part of American employers as well as undocumented foreigners. The Senate immigration reform bill would put enforceable laws on the books and end that contempt.

Here's the story: Sandoval-Perez arrived in El Paso in 1998 with someone else's ID. He was immediately deported but successfully sneaked in two days later, joining his wife and baby, already in the country illegally.

The family had been living peacefully in Kansas City when Sandoval-Perez was asked for identification over a minor matter, and he came up with several fake ones. The police eventually learned that he had returned to the U.S. illegally after a deportation. Had the immigration reforms passed, he would have been eligible for amnesty.

Sandoval-Perez was not afraid of work, having held jobs at a cabinet factory and scrap yard, but as noted, the story is not all positive. The jobs could have gone to citizens or legal immigrants. The flood of cheap undocumented labor depresses wages and benefits for low-skilled Americans who do get such jobs.

Twelve years ago, Matthew Reindl, owner of a woodworking factory in Great Neck, N.Y., testified before the House about his difficulty competing with rivals employing illegal immigrants at far lower wages and giving almost no benefits. Interestingly, his workers were nearly all immigrants themselves but documented.

Some very questionable assumptions have popped up in the Sandoval-Perez saga. The man's wife complained that immigration authorities had dropped Josue off in Matamoros (over the Rio Grande from Brownsville, Texas), which The New York Times described as "a violence-ridden Mexican border down."

An injustice? Matamoros is home to almost a half-million Mexicans. Can the solution for their sometimes-difficult lives be to move everyone en masse to the U.S.?

Tragedy is, Matamoros used to be a great tourist draw, with restaurants and stores lining its main drag. Immigrant advocates should be careful about portraying other countries as hopeless places no sane person would want to live in.

Indeed, the fairly open border with the United States hasn't been especially good for the countries sending their unemployed this way. It has reduced pressure on their often-corrupt elites to open their economies and provide employment.

Meanwhile, the developing nations have ended up losing many of their most ambitious sons and daughters to the United States. These are not only dedicated workers but potential shakers-up of the old order.

Sandoval-Perez is now in Mexico City accusing President Obama of "discrimination" for not stopping the return of illegal immigrants with prior deportations. He doesn't get it; everyone doesn't have an automatic right to live and work in the United States, however good one's character and intentions.

On the other hand, the United States government never made this clear -- that is, until the Obama administration stepped up enforcement. The immigration reforms would put teeth in the law and thereby end the confusion.

No one should want the Senate bill to become law more than the immigration hard-liners. But they'll have to get over their no-amnesty obsession and let millions of illegal immigrants who have dug deep roots under the sloppy old rules stay. That's the price of order, and it's a humane one.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com. To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at www.creators.com.

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