Elvira Arellano Deportation — Public Relations and Immigration Reform May Go Hand in Hand

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On Wednesday, a Mexican Senate committee passed a measure urging President Felipe Calderon to send an official complaint to the United States government for the deportation of Elvira Arellano, an illegal immigrant and activist who found sanctuary from the law in a United Methodist Church in Chicago for almost a year. She was ignoring her deportation order with the intention of staying in the country with her eight-year-old son, an American citizen by birthright. The Senate committee accused the United States of breaking international law by denying Ms. Arellano access to the Mexican consulate in Los Angeles at the moment of her arrest.

The same committee also approved a scholarship fund for Ms. Arellano's son who is now staying in the United States with his godmother.

This action of the Mexican Senate is the latest piece of evidence that immigration reform groups and the Mexican government urgently need a new public relations strategy if they are going to succeed in changing U.S. immigration policy and practice. The strategy they are following now, including the organization or encouragement of marches in major U.S. cities (starring Mexican flags and provocative signs written in Spanish), the seeking of legal sanctuary in left-leaning churches and the creation of martyrs for the cause who, like Ms. Arellano, already have criminal records, is not working. Nor will it ever work.

Americans find repugnant the Latin American mentality of apparent indifference to law and order. They are scandalized by populist, illegal methods, no matter how good the objective may be. Mexicans and other immigrants, on the other hand, see the flagrant hypocrisy in our immigration system as moral justification for their actions. They rightly complain that, on the one hand, the U.S. government makes work visas almost impossible to attain, while on the other, it tolerates the offering of work to anyone who can make it across the border. An unjust system, they would say, deserves no respect.

Ms. Arellano's situation is a case in point of this cultural divide in relation to law. If immigration activist groups continue to make her into an icon of government victimization, as they plan to do this weekend with more rallies, featuring the presence of Ms. Arellano's eight-year-old son, they will only garner for themselves more negative sentiment within the political community. But, it is this political community, not illegal immigrants, which will determine the fate of people like Ms. Arellano. Americans will see her son in the march and wonder why she doesn't take him back to Mexico if she wants to be with him so much. When he is grown, if he wills, he can then come to the United States with his valid U.S. passport, they will argue.

To Latin immigrants that type of thinking will sound puritan and unrealistic. But at this point, such philosophical considerations are useless and, in my opinion, should be silenced from within the immigration reform movement. If they are going to advance their cause, leaders of immigrant groups must communicate to their followers that many Americans see the respect of law as the principle threshold for morality and the sine quo non for social justice — first law and order, then, and only then, will Americans consider political proposals.

A revised public relations strategy for immigration groups and the Mexican government that trumpets law and order, the use of English in the public square and a general attitude of gratitude to the host nation, alone will not be enough to turn the tide of justice for all. The United States government must decide to fix our broken immigration system by eliminating all incentives to hire illegal immigrants, even if this crackdown means a short-term economic strain. This will force more efficient processing of temporary work visas in accordance with the demands of the economy. But while the new, more friendly face on immigration groups, which I am suggesting here, alone is not enough, it may be the catalyst for this type of real structural reform. God knows we need it.

God bless, Father Jonathan

P.S. — Some readers have asked me for suggestions of where they can donate to help the people in Peru who are suffering the consequences of the recent earthquake. Here is the Web site of the Catholic Association which is teaming up with the “Christian Life Movement” in Peru to coordinate U.S. donations. I am not affiliated with either of the two organizations in any way, but I know some of the directors and they seem to be doing good and trustworthy work. If you're interested, click here to check it out for yourself.

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