The Indy 500: On immigration, the argument of the heart already may be lost

Jorge Zaldivar, 42, crossed the border illegally 22 years ago. He keeps at the ready a blue backpack filled with emergency supplies, including a phone charger, deodorant, toothbrush, a list of medication he needs to treat his diabetes, and a family photo should the day come that ICE officers arrest him. (Photo by Alex Burness)
Jorge Zaldivar, 42, crossed the border illegally 22 years ago. He keeps at the ready a blue backpack filled with emergency supplies, including a phone charger, deodorant, toothbrush, a list of medication he needs to treat his diabetes, and a family photo should the day come that ICE officers arrest him. (Photo by Alex Burness)

If you haven’t read Alex Burness’s story on Christina and Jorge Zaldivar, I urge you to take a moment and do so. It presents, in detail, a one-family illustration of the very real, very human, very painful challenges that long have been before us when it comes to immigration.

Here you have one of the millions of mixed-status families in this nation. Christina is a citizen. Jorge is undocumented. 

Here you have a person who has spent half of his life in the U.S., who has worked and raised a family and stayed out of trouble, and yet who occupies a world in which his family has to use secretly coded door knocks, who chose a home that would give him a hiding place, who keeps at the ready an emergency go-bag because one day, one night, one early morning when the house is quiet and all are still sleeping, immigration agents may come pounding on the door. 

Here is a family who says goodbye when he goes to work not knowing if he will come home after. And, yes, none of us know if those we love will come home when they leave our sights, but few of us live with that thought ever-present. 

Here is a man who runs into a guardrail on his drive down from the mountains, gets cited by police, ends up on ICE radar and then, who, for years, has checked in regularly with immigration as his family has sought to secure him legal status. 

Easier said than done. 

I must have said that a thousand times to those who believe that because an undocumented immigrant marries a U.S. citizen, it’s all easy street from there. I don’t blame people for not knowing otherwise. Immigration law is complicated and ever in flux and it is a topic to be approached as one approaches a dog that might bite: humbly. 

Jorge crossed the border illegally. This is a whole different matter than entering the country legally and overstaying a visa, which most of those here illegally have done. (Put another way, no wall will ever stop them.)  Someone who crosses the border illegally and then marries a citizen has to go back to his or her home country to be processed. In the illogic of the immigration system, the moment that person crosses the border back home, he or she is subject to bans of varying length on returning to this country legally. Usually that ban is 10 years. This is the punishment for entering our country without permission. It has been so since the Clinton era. Someone who goes back and forth multiple times and is caught faces a permanent bar on legal reentry. The real life consequences of this policy have been what one might predict. Migrants send for their families rather than risk going back and forth. Mixed-status families remained mixed-status families because the other choices are separation for a decade or so — or citizen spouse and children join undocumented partner in another country. 

Perhaps this has been Christina and Jorge’s dilemma. Every story is unique. 

But when I say their story sheds light on the problems with our immigration system, I use the word “immigration” and not “illegal immigration” deliberately. Jorge is undocumented, but the issue is not that one or 100 or hundreds of thousands of men and women are here without authorization. The issue is that almost none of them could come legally. Our policies do not accommodate those who are not highly skilled or wealthy or who do not have immediate family members who are citizens. 

And so today in Denver, you had representatives of the Farm Bureau and chambers of commerce and homebuilders standing alongside politicians who say all the right things about immigration reform but have accomplished none of them. Today, you saw the business community attempt, again, to expand the argument for reform beyond partisanship to economics, to labor and profit, offering up the image of a pie of ever-expanding opportunity and investment. It is an argument designed to win minds and I have not lost hope that it will work because if children behind fences, children who are terrified and traumatized, children who have drowned, do not sway the hardliners who are fine with blaming desperate parents, then the argument of the heart is already lost.

Tina was a city columnist for the late great Rocky Mountain News and The Denver Post. She left Denver for Richmond, Virginia in 2012 and learned the joys of news editing at the city’s alternative newspaper, Style Weekly, and its premiere city mag, Richmond Magazine. She was also a staff writer for the Washington Post and its Storyline public policy/narrative journalism project. She has national recognition for her reporting on immigration, education and urban poverty. Tina lives in Fort Collins with her husband and two kids. She’s a native New Mexican and prefers red over green.



    The current migration at our border is costing taxpayers a Kings ransom ($17,000 per day ABC news.) Fleeing persecution? or fleeing for freebies? they sure don’t stay in Mexico when they reach “safety” or ask or offered political asylum in Mexico. Why? because Mexico will give them NOTHING. So they make the long journey to our border, our generous Democrats, and our tax dollars.

    We have Democrat / Socialist / Activists in the Northern Triangle of South America & Mexico; even as you read this instructing the populations the “benefits” & laws of coming to the USA and to make sure you bring your children and use the the magic words…..”credible fear.” Mexico recently arrested two socialist activists who were instrumental in the organizing of prior caravans,

    Then you have a Democrat House saying the crisis is “manufactured” as literally thousands attack our border daily? National Sovereignty is a myth to Democrats. The crisis is manufactured…by the Democrats themselves. Make no mistake about this, Democrats want this to happen and never stop.. They will with hold border security support allowing as many illegal aliens to enter the country as possible overwhelming our BP & ICE before assisting in border security (if ever.).


    To Democrats/Progressives/Socialists (whats the difference?) programs like Temporary Protective Status (TPS) or Deferred Action for Childhood arrivals (DACA) are permanent programs. There is nothing “temporary or deferred” about these programs to Democrats. These programs are designed to admit refugees (usually from the third world) then Democrats fight to keep them here permanently using the charge of racism, religion, guilt, against anyone opposed. Simple formula works great.

  2. I prefer to help people stay in their own country. .This out of control mass illegal immigration is bad for America. It will strain our resources to the breaking point , and cause severe environmental damage due to overpopulation, creating more climate change, urban sprawl, and pollution,as more people begin a life of materialistic overconsumption. here in the US. It will also cause an increase in crime, disease, and homelessness straining our already overburdened system, The Democrats are now for open borders and free healthcare for all and.It will honestly cause severe damage to this country.

    I say increase aid to help them in their home countries by providing them with clean water,, medical care, healthy food, and education. This has gone too far. Even as recently as the Obama administration the Democrats had sensible immigration policies . Now they have crossed the line into a fantasy world.

  3. Compassion is not a sound basis for public policy. There are more than a billion poor who would come to the western world if they could. Just recently hundreds of Africans traveled to Mexico and tried to enter the US. What will be the quality of life for the majority when the US population reaches 500 million?

  4. Will you come to my or my family’s aid if one of these illegal’s harms us? Do you write about officer’ Young’s children , wife and their family separation? “That buck doesn’t stop here” Correct?. Your “reporting” is entirely agenda driven and racially biased as it was everywhere else you’ve “worked”
    The subject of this “reporting” is breaking the law by driving ,working and more than likely “No Seguros” My uninsured driver’s premium is almost $400 a year on top of the cost’s to care for his children. as i’m sure they require some sort of government subsidy. as this man couldn’t possibly earn enough under the table. . How is that fair to us that don’t share your biases and pay for it?

  5. Please direct the US citizen wife to American Families United we are a non profit organization that is advocating for laws to be changed, such as aspects of the flawed IIRIRA from 1996 that has caused much of the immigration mess we have. US citizens rights are not respected under current laws and are unable to go before a judge to advocate for their families. We’d also be happy to talk to you. It is estimated that over 1,000,000 US citizen spouses are affected with this or a similar situation.

  6. Careful, Lisa, with commonsense positions like that, you’re going to be mistaken for a “nation-building liberal”

  7. “I had always hoped that this land might become a safe and agreeable asylum to the virtuous and persecuted part of mankind, to whatever nation they might belong.”
    –President George Washington

    “The United States should be an asylum for the persecuted lovers of civil and religious liberty.”
    –Thomas Paine

    “Our attitude towards immigration reflects our faith in the American ideal. We have always believed it possible for men and women who start at the bottom to rise as far as the talent and energy allow. Neither race nor place of birth should affect their chances.”
    –President Robert F. Kennedy

    The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.
    –Leviticus 19:34

    “These aren’t people. These are animals.”
    –“President” Trumpster Fire

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