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Hero status of illegal immigrant points to ironies

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“And isn’t it ironic...don’t you think?”
- Alanis Morissette, from the song, “Ironic”

In a month of bad news - Standard and Poors lowered the U.S.’ sterling credit rating, 30 U.S. service members (including 22 Navy SEALS) were killed in the single deadliest loss for U.S. troops since the Afghan war began in late 2001, in Somalia 3.2 million people need food and aid immediately, and the stock market plunges again and again and again (Is this the new normal?) - it’s refreshing to hear a good story, one of heroism, courage, and irony.
Yes, irony.
Antonio Diaz Chacon, the 24-year-old man who saved a 6-year-old girl from a kidnapper in Albuquerque, N.M. last week was rightfully honored as a hero. Diaz happened to be in the right place at the right time when he saw the girl abducted. He immediately hopped into his black pickup truck and chased down the kidnapper, pulling the girl from the wrecked van. The irony is that Chacon, a mechanic, wasn’t supposed to be there to save that little girl, for Chacon is an illegal immigrant. He’s married to an American and has been in the country four years. But getting an attorney to acquire the legal documents required for illegals was too difficult, time consuming, and expensive for Chacon.
At the ceremony where Albuquerque Mayor Berry hailed him as a “hero” and proclaimed the day, “Antonio Diaz Chacon Day,” New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez said Chacon “acted courageously and as an outstanding Samaritan.” But the Governor’s “outstanding Samaritan” acknowledgement is in itself ironic, for Martinez is trying to repeal a state law that allows illegal immigrants in New Mexico to obtain a driver’s license. With no driver’s license, Chacon would quite possibly not have had his job as a mechanic, nor would he have been able legally to use his pickup truck to chase the kidnapper.
But Chacon believes he was supposed to be there that day, and now that it’s happened, he hopes people will see that undocumented immigrants aren’t necessarily criminals. Christina Parker, a spokeswoman for Border Network for Human Rights in El Paso, Texas, said the episode “points to the fact that most undocumented immigrants living in the United States are not criminals. Most are just working to support their families and to take away their driver’s license would be detrimental to that.”
The constant threat of deportation is also detrimental to familial support and well-being.
What would have happened if Chacon had been living in a state that was cracking down on illegal immigrants, say Arizona, Georgia, or Alabama? Would his possible deportation and subsequent absence from his wife and two daughters have been in the back of his mind when he saw the girl thrown into the van? Would he have paused a split second before deciding what to do? Would his wife have hesitated before dialing 911?  And would that moment of ambivalence have allowed the kidnapper time to get away?
I hope not; I think Chacon would have done the right thing anyway. But the very fact that in one state Chacon could be a hero one day, while in another he could perform the same act of heroism and be torn from his family the next day, points to the ironies in our immigration system.
The solution towards a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants lies somewhere in that complicated middle ground between amnesty for all unauthorized documented immigrants and criminal prosecution and deportation of them.
Finding that path is not easy, and in light of Washington’s apparent inability to resolve complex issues, perhaps churches could shine a light for them and others. The Scriptures do have something to say about how we should treat the 15 million undocumented immigrants: “You must not mistreat or oppress foreigners in any way” (Exodus 22:21). And when Jesus warned, “When you did it to the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!” (Matthew 25:40), wouldn’t “the least of these” include undocumented immigrants?
The moral majority of Jesus’ day may not have appreciated his inclusion of the despised Samaritan in his story of the Good Samaritan. In their eyes, he wasn’t supposed to be there.
But Jesus put him in the story anyway to teach us a lesson about doing what is right, compassionate, and good to anyone in need, regardless of their legal status.
And there is no irony in that.
Editor’s note: Contact David B. Whitlock, Ph.D., at drdavid@davidbwhitlock.com or visit his website, www.davidbwhitlock.com.