What can the Wellton 26 teach us about the issue of illegal immigration? Do you think this is a moral or a legal issue? Why?

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jerseygyrl1983 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It is both a moral and a legal issue.

The story of the Wellton 26 began in May 2001. Twenty-six men and teenage boys from the Mexican state of Veracruz, located in southeastern Mexico, attempted to cross the United States-Mexico border into Arizona. They were led by a "coyote," or someone who helps desperate people cross into the United States illegally in exchange for a fee. The coyote was Jesus Lopez Ramos who, before becoming a coyote, also lived in poverty.

Sometime between May 22 and May 24, 2001, fourteen members of the group died, while the other twelve barely escaped with their lives. Unfortunately, Ramos and the migrants had not brought along enough food and water to sustain them during the long trip in the harsh desert climate. They are named the Wellton 26 after Wellton, Arizona, which is the border station nearest to the place where the survivors were found by Border Patrol agents. 

The story of the Wellton 26 is, unfortunately, not unusual. Desperate people from Mexico and Central America frequently die trying to reach the United States. They are fleeing from poverty and violence in their home countries, and toward relative safety and economic opportunity. This story made news because of the high number of casualties in this single trek.

The issue of illegality is inextricable from the issue of morality. Many, if not all, of the men and boys in the Wellton 26 were probably entering the United States with the hope of getting jobs as farm laborers, or perhaps, in construction.

Farm labor -- e.g., picking oranges or tomatoes -- pays very little and requires one to work long hours in uncomfortable conditions. Americans, typically, do not perform this work. Certain positions in construction which require hard, manual labor are very similar. Therefore, supervisors seek out illegal immigrants whom they can pay meager wages in exchange for many hours of labor. They can also avoid subsidizing certain benefits, such as health insurance. Thus, because the migrants are illegal, they can be exploited. If they complain about their treatment or their wages, they can be expelled from their jobs and possibly threatened with deportation.

The American desire to "protect our borders" is often at odds with the economic desire for cheap labor. Illegal immigration is undeniably a problem. People who are undocumented have not undergone background checks. Some of these people have criminal records in their home countries. Being undocumented poses an even greater risk for the immigrants. If they are victims of a crime they are less likely to report it out of fear that they will reveal their undocumented status and be deported. For those who have lived in the United States for years and have native-born children, this is a major risk.

Undocumented immigrants also perform a great deal of domestic labor. They are gardeners, nannies, and housekeepers. Again, their illegal status can allow their employers to pay them far less than their labor is worth, while threatening to have them deported if they complain about their wages or responsibilities. 

Undocumented immigrants, as previously stated, are fleeing from desperate circumstances. American employers who use their undocumented status to exploit their labor are not only guilty of disobeying the law but are also guilty of treating others inhumanely.