If you lived in 1862 in New York State, and a black man and his child and escaped from slavery in the south to your hometown, he would be “an illegal” and the legal thing to do would be return him to his “native” land in the South. If they were separated or treated without humanity, you could, legally, say, “they should have thought about that before they tried to cross the border without correct papers.” But you know what? Brave men and women disregarded what was “illegal,” and did what was right. We honor them now as heroes who worked in the underground railroad.
If you lived in London in 1938, and a Jewish child refugee from Czechoslovakia somehow found their way to your neighborhood, they would be “an illegal.” Smart elected politicians and economists had decided there simply weren’t enough resources in the UK to take all those refugees. They had to “make sure we take care of our own first,” and they had already given out the maximum number of asylum visas. The correct and legal thing to do would have been to report them for deportation. But do you know what? Brave men like Sir Nicholas Winston disregarded what was “illegal,” and did what was RIGHT by secreting them away in foster homes with forged paperwork all around the UK. We honor heroes like him, because later we learned that the people who didn’t manage to escape were systematically rounded up, from the youngest child to the oldest grandmother, and taken to gas chambers. (Btw, the USA wouldn’t take those refugees at that time, either.)
If you rode a bus in 1955 with a woman named Rosa Parks, and you saw her refusing to move to the back, the legal thing would have been to move out of the way so the police could more easily arrest her. She was breaking the law, you know. It was illegal.
If you were in Tienanmen Square in 1989 when the tanks rolled in, a law abiding citizen would have stepped aside and let them massacre their fellowmen unhindered. It was 100% illegal for “tank man” to do such an illegal, heroic act.
If you think you might have signed the declaration of independence if given a chance, you might think twice if you realize how it was actually an act of high treason against your sovereign government. Illegal, Illegal, Illegal.
If you think its a natural right for women to own property or vote, do you believe that only because our current laws reflect this? If we rewound history and plopped you down 200 years ago, would you still believe this? It was illegal in New York State then, you know.
The thing is- ALL SORTS OF THINGS have been illegal or legal at one time or another, but being legal does not make it RIGHT, nor does something (or “someone”) being illegal automatically make them WRONG or evil.
LAWS ARE NOT ALWAYS RIGHT. Laws are only society’s attempt to define what is right, and often society gets it wrong. That’s why laws get updated and changed all the time.
When humans go against laws that are wrong in order to do what is right, history usually ends up calling them courageous. Heroes. We read stories like this and we stand in awe of the amazing things that people did in the face of some very unjust laws, and we hope to inspire ourselves to act in courage like they did.
Some of the most wicked and unjust laws are only changed by brave men and women doing daring, illegal acts. Petitioning and lobbying and protesting and voting are great, but when gross injustice is legally happening, it is incumbent upon a just person to do something other than hope and vote for the the laws to change. We cannot be those who sit by and watch as murders and atrocities are carried out quite legally.
The immigration issue is something that needs addressing. It does. But we can’t do it while painting a picture of people as wicked because they are not in line with current laws. We have to back up and ask whether those laws are actually just or not. That is the conversation we have to have, and there is room for debate.
But we have to stop equating “legal” with “right” and “illegal” with “wrong.”