Letter to the editor: Undocumented people need a fair bargain

By Will Warne /

If we can agree to listen to our common humanity instead of our politics, we will collectively hear the timeless sound of a straightforward injustice; 14 million people in America living, working and dying in socio-economic purgatory. None of us would have advocated this treatment for our immigrant ancestors. “But they are illegal and need to pay the price” is our common justification. But what about the ethical and economic consequences of our complicity?

Are we willing to “pay the price” of our collective Faustian Bargain to hire illegal immigrants, pay them, eat their food, use their clean dishes, collect their rent, sell them our cars and to transact the other countless deals that we negotiate with the, “aliens”? If justice is the clarion call of the proper political solution, than those of us who have benefited from illegal labor in any way owe a pound of our own flesh. But we, like they, can’t simply pay this debt back. For us, it accrues against our collective conscience. For them, it’s paid each day when they retreat back into the shadows after our low wage business is done. If justice is our common imperative, have we achieved it by saving a few dollars on labor? The immigration debate is an opportunity for all of us, legal and illegal to reconcile a shared debt.

Many of the decisions we make to maximize our consumption instead of our ethics would wither in the face of the decisions most immigrants confront when they come to the U.S.: “Do I buy the big TV or the really big TV?” vs. “Do I leave my country and my family?”

“Do I buy the organic dog food or the regular dog food?” vs. “Do I risk my life to cross an infernal desert to feed my family?”

We have collectively built a country that offers more opportunity than many others. Throughout our history, that progress has been realized by a blend of both fairness and injustice. From Native Americans, to slavery, to child labor to gender discrimination, we have all benefited from the bargain we call “progress.”

“Progress” has made our country rich. But justice makes it great. Self interest satisfies our immediate needs. But ethics and morality are timeless. We can no longer hide behind the convenience of our strongly held political views. We need to stand in the light of our common humanity and create a fair bargain for the undocumented people we are already sharing our lives and economics with. Anything less is unjust.

By accepting our complicity in illegal immigration and by honoring our shared humanity as people we can transcend politics, patriotism, economics and simply advocate for what is just: an interim legal status followed by a path to citizenship after complying with whatever laws are enacted to make legal status and even citizenship possible over time. Any reasonable solution would include honoring our country’s tradition of laws and recognizing the thousands of people who have come here legally, stood in line and waited years. But by benefiting from the subsidized labor of millions of illegal immigrants for decades, we have forfeited our collective right to expect that they alone bear the burden of coming here illegally and remain forever in limbo. We have shared the benefit and now must share the solution.

— Will Warne lives in Bend.