The Gray Area Between Black and White

If I hear one more politician, news anchor, or talk show host say that the first thing we must do to stop illegal immigration is "secure the border," I think I'm going to be sick. Moreover, if I hear the term "comprehensive immigration reform" again, I'll probably begin to retch with disgust. The reason for my stomach-turning impulse comes from the frustration I feel when I hear meaningless phrases used repeatedly by those who have no plan for their implementation.

We hear about building a 2,000-mile fence as we watch videos of people climbing over portions of recently constructed fences. We hear about state and federal officers assigned to guard the border while acknowledging that we don't have enough manpower to become 24-hour sentinels, stretching across several states. When U.S. citizens take it upon themselves to organize and guard their borders, they're maligned as "vigilantes" and "hate-mongers" by those who know how to work the system to turn common sense on its head.  

Recently, President Obama, with another one of those platitudes about the immigration system being "broken," talked about a comprehensive immigration reform that would see "undocumented migrants" (read: people breaking the law by sneaking across our borders) given a pathway to citizenship and further measures put in place to (here we go again) "secure the border." How in Heaven's name are we supposed to deal with this gut-crunching problem if we can't even use words that honestly describe the situation?

Euphemisms are going to be the death of us because their usage tends to transmogrify reality. If you are a citizen of this country, the United States is your home! When someone breaks into your home, he should be referred to as a lawbreaker, not stroked and coddled like a lost pet that strayed into your yard. Would a burglar, walking along the street with your television on his shoulder, be called an undocumented shopper? By what stretch of the imagination is the word "illegal" a term that describes hatred for an ethnic group? Let's get real! The fact is that these are red herring tactics used by those trying to defend an indefensible position.

An old friend of mine, from my years as a cop in NYC, used to tell me that no issue is merely black or white -- that there's a gray area. Since he was black (and still is) and I'm white, we often disagreed about the extent of gray area in police-related incidents. Yet as hard as each of us tried, we sometimes found ourselves exhibiting bias toward one side or another where race was involved. For example, one of the laws we were required to enforce involved "gypsy" cab drivers, a term used to describe taxi drivers who illegally pick up fares that hail them from the street. Legal cab drivers had to display a medallion issued by the city. The medallion, which costs somewhere in the middle-six figures, provides the riding public with, among other things, some assurance that the driver has gone through a background check and is considered safe enough for them to be passengers in his vehicle. Gypsies, on the other hand, are unregulated, therefore you don't know if you just got in the car with a serial killer headed toward a deserted area near the river.

Nevertheless, there were those who maintained that gypsy cabs were a form of victimless crime. After all, they reasoned, there were more than enough people in need of their services, but not many drivers who could afford a medallion. I suppose it could be argued that the high price of the medallions is analogous to the difficulty immigrants have in obtaining citizenship. In addition to the costly investment, the number of medallions issued by the city is closely regulated and limited, to the sad disappointment of many would-be cabbies.

So is it a stretch to say that the INS should provide less stringent regulation and allow a greater number people to become citizens? If that amount were to be doubled or tripled, would we have the same problems at the border? The large numbers of people crossing the border illegally are doing so because there are plenty of U.S. employers willing to hire them.

Consequently, it would appear to be a no-brainer that we should expedite those citizenship papers, allow them to become taxpaying citizens, and lessen the burden on the Border Patrol and on those people, who sincerely want to enter legally, contribute to this country and build a better life for their families. Perhaps that is the gray area between black and white.

Bob Weir is a former detective sergeant in the New York City Police Department. He is the executive editor of The News Connection in Highland Village, Texas. E-mail Bob.