Some details and names have been changed to protect the people involved, but the essential truth of this story has been left intact. This week a friend made it back into the United States.  Earlier in the year he had been deported because he was without the appropriate legal documentation to be in this country.  Stories like this provide “compelling evidence” for people who want to get tough on immigration – as long as my friend remains a person without a story.

When he is just an illegal immigrant and someone I have never met, it is easy to condemn and judge him.  But Juan (not his real name) has a story – a testimony.  He was deported, without warning or notice.  Not even his wife and children, who are “legal,” were told.  It is hard to imagine the feelings they must have had.  How do you explain to your children that you have no idea where their daddy is or what happened to him?

Juan is a loving father.  Like any dad he just wanted a better life for his children.  It is easy to understand his overwhelming desire to reunite with his family.  Asking them to come to his home in Mexico was unrealistic.  His home town is overrun with violence from the drug wars.  For him the only real option was to find a way back.

This meant that he would have to pay smugglers and the fee was substantial.  When he arrived at the US-Mexico border the smuggler put a gun to his head.  The conditions had changed.  Juan not only had to pay a huge smuggling fee he now had to deliver drugs to a contact on the other side of the border.  If he refused they would shoot him right there on the spot.  Once Juan crossed the normal fears of getting caught were compounded by the additional fear of being caught with drugs.  Now he was in a no win situation.  If the US border patrol caught him he would go to jail for any number of crimes related to bringing illegal drugs into the USA.  If he got rid of the drugs and was caught as an illegal trying to get into the USA, Juan would be deported back to Mexico where he would be hunted down by the Mexican drug dealers for not delivering the package.

The good news is that Juan survived the dessert crossing, delivered the drugs and has been reunited with his family.  The bad news is that Juan has been changed forever.  Before he was deported he was a happy, loving man for whom family was everything.  Family is still important to Juan but there is a fear in his eyes that may never go away.  I suspect that he would rather die than be deported again.

For me the immigration debate isn’t about people I will never meet, it is personal.  I have friends and acquaintances without documentation.  From my vantage point the vast majority of people in our country without documentation help us to be a better people.  It seems that it is to our benefit to not only find a way for them to be here legally, but it is critical to our future to plead with them to stay.