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What We Can Learn About Immigration from Linda Chavez
by Amy Ballentine

We may never know the true nature of the relationship between Chavez and Mercado. Nonetheless, we should use this incident to reevaluate some of our immigration policies. Certainly our sense of decency and humanity calls upon us to do what Chavez says she did – take in a person in their time of need. Such an act of kindness should not be prosecuted, nor should a person be made to chose between doing what is morally right and obeying the law. Our history has shown that people will chose to do what they believe is right even when it is illegal. The concept of sanctuary has deep roots, and this opportunity to reform laws dealing with the harboring of undocumented immigrants should not be lost.

Interestingly, while Chavez argued passionately for the concept of sanctuary in her case, in a 1995 article she condemned laws that prohibited city and other local officials from informing the INS of the presence of an undocumented immigrant, saying that such laws made a mockery of US immigration laws.

The incident also provides an opportunity to reexamine laws dealing with essential workers, those who fill positions that are vitally necessary, but that are low paying and offer little chance for meaningful advancement. We routinely hear that US workers do not want to do domestic work, farm work, landscaping, etc. Indeed, Linda Chavez herself had advocated making it easier for immigrants to be brought to the US to do such work. Ironically, however, her actions reflect a widespread and two-sided attitude toward immigration – calling for stricter border control and punishment of undocumented immigrants, while at the same time arguing that people they know who are undocumented should be given an exception.

A growing number of people, more and more as the number of two-income families increases, feel the need for domestic assistance. Often they know someone who would be the answer to all their problems, but because the person is an immigrant and out of status, they cannot hire them.

About The Author

Amy Ballentine is an associate in Siskind, Susser & Haas's Memphis, Tennessee office. She graduated Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature from Rhodes College in 1994. While in law school at the University of Memphis she was a member of the law review staff as well as a published author. She also worked with the local public defender’s office in death penalty cases. In May 1999, she graduated Cum Laude from the University of Memphis Law School. She is a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. She can be reached by email at

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