…Later, at Patrick’s apartment, after Diego went back home to be with his “wife,” I asked Patrick what the deal was. That’s when he told me of Diego’s “status.”
“Oh, he’s an undocumented worker,” he said matter-of-factly. “He paid a coyote a thousand dollars to transport him across the border in California. He grew up in a slum outside San Salvador without electricity or running water, with nine brothers and sisters all fending for survival amid rampant crime and drugs. He arrived in D.C. about a year ago. I met him at a club and that’s when we started dating.”
“You’re dating an illegal alien?” I replied, shocked.
Patrick winced. “I prefer the term undocumented worker,” he said, twisting his lips in a familiar way.
“What about his wife and daughter?” I asked. “What’s that all about?”
“Oh, Robin married him so he could get apply for his green card. The little girl is from a previous relationship. They’re all living together and “playing house;” they pretend to be married whenever a guvvie comes to visit. Sometimes the INS comes over unannounced; that’s why Diego spends as much time there as possible.”
“Why did she agree to it? Doesn’t she know she could get in big trouble?”
“She likes Diego. Though she’d never admit it I think she’s hoping to convert him.”
“You can’t be serious.”
In the space of a few minutes, I had learned of at least three crimes that had been or were being committed: Diego’s illegal entry and continuing presence in the country, a fraudulent “marriage” to gain citizenship, and Diego’s “wife’s” fraudulent role in the charade. Those were the ones I knew of; my fellow lawyers at INS could probably point out others.
I was deeply troubled by this news. Here I was, fresh out of law school and charged with upholding the laws of the government, and I had knowledge of serious crimes being committed. I wondered how Patrick, a man of morals and character, could be so flippant about being involved with an illegal alien and doing nothing about it. We’d been raised to respect the law and not stand by idly if we witnessed a crime being committed.
When I left Pat that day to walk home I was terribly bothered. On the one hand, I felt morally obligated to report the crimes. If I didn’t I might lose my job. If my boss found out I knew of these crimes and did nothing about it, she might be forced to terminate me for legal or, more likely, political reasons. On the other hand I didn’t want to rat out Pat’s lover. He told me it was the first time he’d ever been in love and I knew how much Diego meant to him. If I alerted the authorities it would almost certainly lead to Diego’s deportation and put a severe strain on my relationship with Pat. It might even sever our friendship altogether.
To try to solve my dilemma, when I got home I decided to do some research. Though I was a lawyer, I was not familiar with immigration law; I searched through the Internet and my law school textbooks and discovered that I was not legally obligated to report crimes that had been committed, but that I was obligated to report crimes that were being planned. Furthermore, I was also obligated to report any crime that was a felony. (I learned that crossing the U.S. border once is a misdemeanor, but making repeated attempts constitutes a felony; I didn’t know how many times Diego had tried). Based on my cursory investigation (which I intended to supplement with a call to a friend at INS), I believed I was legally obligated to report Diego’s situation, which would inevitably also implicate his “wife” and perhaps even my brother…