I really urge everyone to read Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas’ story coming out as having been smuggled illegally into the United States from the Philippines back when he was 12 years old. The story of fake IDs, secrets, shame, and professional success is incredibly moving. The whole thing is particularly shocking and sympathetic because until he tried to get a driver’s license as a teenager, he had no idea. He was sent by his mother to come live with relatives in the United States when he was a kid, and provided with fake documents without his knowledge. He unsuspectingly went to the DMV and handed over fake papers, then he got lucky when the person he gave them to told him what was wrong without blowing the whistle.
But of course even though they don’t quite make for as good a sob story, even people who come over here illegally as adults knowing full well what they’re doing ought to be regarded with sympathy. When we look at photos of poverty-stricken people in poor countries, we feel sympathy. When we look at photos of people demonstrating for political freedom in dictatorships, we feel sympathy. And when we look at photos of people sneaking across the border or preventing fake papers, what we ought to feel is sympathy. Sympathy for poor people in poor and misgoverned countries who are trying to take control of their lives and do something about it. The vast majority of people alive in the United States today are descended from people who decided at some point to get out of a bad situation by moving. The fact that we’ve managed to become a society that feels only fear in the face of people wanting to do the same thing our ancestors did — go someplace better to build a better life — is extremely sad.