Tim Whyte | Immigration: Balancing Compassion vs. Priorities

By Tim Whyte

Signal Editor 

As a part-time college journalism instructor for the past 20-plus years, one of my all-time favorite students was a bright and talented young man, who was inquisitive, creative and eager to learn, and had a good sense of humor. 

One semester, he took one of my classes and by some luck of the draw he was the only male student in the class. Ever the gentleman, there would be times when I’d unlock the door before class and he would stand and hold the door open for every single one of his female classmates.

He was the nicest kid, and a solid writer who had a great flair for visual storytelling and video editing. He was such a good guy and I knew he had all the tools to succeed.

He was also an undocumented immigrant.

His parents brought him here as a child, so he didn’t willfully cross the border illegally. He went to American schools, through high school and college, and for all intents and purposes, he was as American as any of us except for his immigration status.

Today, when I contemplate the difficult and contentious issue of illegal immigration, and how our governments should best deal with it, I find myself conflicted. I know that, among those here illegally, are many great kids like my former student who will make positive contributions to our country and, perhaps, one day, become citizens. 

I also know that, especially in California, many of those in power are falling all over themselves to prioritize treatment of illegal immigrants ahead of legal immigrants and U.S. citizens. 

And that’s wrong. 

The latest case in point is the California budget signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom. In their zeal to roll out the red carpet for people who came here illegally, Newsom and the Democrat supermajority in Sacramento are providing taxpayer-funded health care to low-income illegal immigrants ages 19-25. 

To the tune of $98 million. In one year. 

And how are they paying for it?

By taxing the California citizens who can least afford an additional tax. Those who “choose” not to have health insurance — i.e., those who can’t afford it — will pay an extra state tax, a la the original Obamacare, and the proceeds will go to provide free health care for as many as 138,000 illegal immigrants, not all of whom were brought here as children.

It’s easy to exercise compassionate spending when it’s someone else’s dime, isn’t it? Never mind the more cynical motive of securing a future voter base.

Add to this the fact that California offers state-based college financial aid to illegal immigrants, including grants, need-based scholarships, loans and work-study.

The loans, in-state tuition and work-study — I really have no problem with those things. Work your way through and pay interest like the rest of us. 

It’s the grants and scholarships that rankle, because that’s a whole lot of your tax money earmarked for people who aren’t in the country legally. And, while former Gov. Jerry Brown assured us that it was a “separate pot” of money, every state tax dollar that goes to fund the college education of a student who came here illegally is a dollar that doesn’t fund the education of a California citizen or legal immigrant who also needs the help, and will face a mountain of student loan debt when it’s all said and done.

Can you afford to pay 100 percent of your kids’ education? Likely not. A grant or a scholarship could make a big difference, but in California, your odds of getting that kind of help are diminished because it’s also going to undocumented students.

Meanwhile, California and many of its cities are downright obstructing the federal government’s ability to enforce immigration laws, even if the immigrants in question happen to be violent felons who have directly disobeyed a court order to leave.

I can’t exactly relate to the plight of the illegal immigrants who have fled violence and abject poverty in their home countries. I have not walked in their shoes and I know many of their stories are downright heartbreaking. 

But my perspective on immigration is also framed by this: Both of my parents are immigrants, and they came here legally. 

It was the 1960s, and they came from Canada. (Yeah, I know. They had to learn how to speak American, eh?) My parents and my Mom’s entire family jumped through every hoop they needed to jump through. My grandfather came first, got a job and saved up enough money to bring my grandmother and their five kids to Southern California. My Dad followed soon after that. (It’s a cute story of young love, but I digress.)

They all had to go through background checks, medical exams, including chest x-rays, and government red tape, the whole nine yards. They got green cards, which they had to carry and report to the government annually. 

My parents both became proud naturalized citizens and they hold as much respect for “The Star Spangled Banner” as they ever did for “Oh Canada.”

When I came along, I was the first U.S.-born kid in my immediate family.

I never endured the hardships of those who traipse through the desert seeking a better life, but I still have greater regard for those who play by the rules rather than coming across the border surreptitiously and then expecting entitlements for themselves and their children, on our taxpayers’ dime.

Then I think of the good kids, like my former favorite student and others like him who have attended my classes and worked hard to better their opportunities for a good life. It’s not an easy thing to balance, but at the core I believe our tax dollars should take care of legal residents first, particularly in areas like health care and higher education. It’s galling to know that California citizens who can’t afford those things — including many immigrants who came here legally — are footing the bill and shouldering debt while Sacramento uses many millions of our tax dollars to bestow illegal immigrants with free health care and free money for college.

The priorities just seem backward. It’s not because I hold ill will for those kids who are here only due to the fact that their parents brought them — not those kids’ fault, and I think helping them to some extent, such as offering in-state tuition, loans and work-study, is reasonable. It’s because there ought to be a hierarchy of spending priorities that puts citizens and legal immigrants first before those whose families didn’t play by the rules.

I have lost track of that student who held the door open for all of his classmates — it’s been a number of years now — but last I’d heard he had graduated from college and launched his journalism career, which I can only assume will be an accomplished one. 

I hope so.

Tim Whyte is editor of The Signal. His column appears Sundays. On Twitter: @TimWhyte.  

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