Sharing the heartrending stories of families torn apart because of immigration laws -- as "Orange Is the New Black" actor Diane Guerrero did in The Times this weekend -- has a better chance of softening hardliners enough to get a reform bill passed in Washington than dispassionate appeals to economics, fairness or anything else that obscures the very real lives hanging in the balance.
Or so the thinking goes.
If letters to The Times are any indication of broader public opinion, immigrants and their supporters who hope to stir public sympathy by putting a human face on the issue have their work cut out for them. So far, the letters responding to the piece by Guerrero -- who tells of coming home from school one day as a 14-year-old to find that her Colombian parents had been swept up by immigration officers and would eventually go on to be deported -- express little sympathy for the actress or others whose families face similar circumstances.
Their point: Guerrero's parents broke the law, full stop. To them, that fact trumps any tear-jerking tales of family trauma.
Here is a selection of the letters we're received so far. Some may appear in print later this week.
Stephanie Caldera of Palmdale says Guerrero may have done well growing up in Colombia:
Guerrero states that families are "being destroyed everyday" due to their own bad choices. If someone doesn't want to be deported, then she shouldn't violate the immigration laws as laid out in Title 8 of the United States Code. Immigrants here illegally shouldn't have committed the violation if they were not willing to accept the consequences.
If Guerrero's parents did not want to have "missed many important events in my life" and if keeping their family together was so important, why didn't her parents bring her back to Colombia to be with them? Guerrero could have become a Colombian citizen with dual nationality. She probably would have had the same opportunity to go to school and become an actress.
If you are breaking the law, then there should be penalties. I don't think people in these cases should blame the government, because the president's job is to implement and enforce laws.
Beverly Hills resident Jeanne Mount says people like Guerrero and her parents need an attitude adjustment:
Guerrero wants desperately to be reunited with parents. Apparently, those parents didn't make arrangements for her to be taken care of in the likely event of their deportation.
What she needs is to visit a real women's prison and talk to the citizen inmates about the family lives they had. Better still, she could visit with some of the citizen children in foster homes and ask them how they like it.
The "system" is not what needs fixing -- it's the attitudes of those who want to game and abuse the system that needs fixing.
P.J. Gendell of Beverly Hills makes the slippery-slope argument:
With all due respect to Guerrero, why should her family have been allowed to illegally enter and stay in the U.S. when so many others are waiting in line to do it legally?
If keeping families together is so important, why didn't her family take her with them when they were deported? If Guerrero's family should have been allowed to enter and stay in the USA illegally, why shouldn't a million, 10 million or 100 million equally desiring people be allowed to do the same?
Sending a criminal to prison separates him from his family and hurts those left behind. Is Guerrero suggesting we don't apply the law to all criminals, or just not apply it to those who break our immigration laws?
Whittier resident Marty Wilson offers sympathy, but with a caveat:
I am all for immigration reform and sympathetic to families that have been divided. I also am aware that this is not a unique situation for undocumented immigrants. There are many families divided and many children who don't have parents who are there for proms and graduations.
Guerrero acknowledges that she was fortunate to become successful in this country of opportunity. She states that "keeping families together is a core American value." I would suggest that this belief is one that the individual has the most control over and obligation to.
Immigration reform is vital and should be fair -- but individual actions do have consequences.