It's so easy to grouse about immigration in a state like Wyoming.
We're not a border state. We don't rely as heavily on manual labor as some states. With little on the line, it's pretty easy to stake out a partisan position on either side and be comfortable.
Then along comes Ashley Fuller -- an affable, erstwhile Australian who came to America more than a quarter century ago. Tomorrow, because of a low-grade marijuana charge not even in the United States and technically not even on his record, he will be deported.
That's what he got for telling the judge a truth back in 1988, when asked if he'd ever been convicted of anything. A marijuana charge as a minor. The record had been expunged -- the fancy way of saying erased from his permanent record.
If ever there was a case of no good deed going unpunished, this is it.
And yet, Fuller's case is challenging for more than just its oddity. That is, Fuller's plight is a sympathetic one not only because he is a rarity in a state not often challenged with the issue of immigration. Instead, his case challenges us because he's been a part of the local culture for years. Many of us know him, consider him a neighbor and a friend. More importantly, he doesn't have a foreign sounding name. He speaks English. And, his work here in the construction industry is something that might be valued more than say -- a minimum wage man picking lettuce or milking cows.
That's also the danger in Fuller's case.
It's so tempting to look at Fuller's case and easily conclude that he's an obvious exception to whatever immigration rule officials can find to send him back "down under."
Yet immigration -- as an issue -- cannot and should not be a case-by-case basis. Just because we think Fuller and his contributions to our part of the country have made him more than worthy of citizenship shouldn't be the subjective measure by which naturalization is granted.
Instead, Fuller's case is illustrative of the problem with the immigration debate. We can sit here and discuss one specific case or another, but it doesn't help in developing a set of logical solutions to immigration.
We have to have a more coherent, cohesive and clear immigration policy. It's almost impossible to justify how Fuller has been allowed to stay for so long only to be deported now. It just doesn't make sense.
It's easy to say we value highly skilled immigrants, all others need not apply. But the economic realities are that as long as employers turn to illegal immigrants for cheap labor -- no matter what sector -- the problem won't be solved when there's so much to be gained by illegally crossing the bordered and nothing to be gained by staying behind. Immigration is as much of an economic issue as it is a social one. We have to get at the root issues which have nothing to do with the languages or color of skin.
We're also concerned that cracking down on immigration -- taking the hard line -- might not take into consideration the broader picture. First-generation immigrants may not be classified as high-skilled laborers, but what about the next generations who are often pushed by their parents for a better life, which includes college? How many families can trace their successes back to the humble hard work of immigrant ancestors?
Fuller's case is an important one: It demonstrates that something needs to be done. But like so many other issues facing Congress, just passing more laws and restrictions may not solve the problem. Instead, we may just be punishing exactly those whom we need the most.