In all the continents and in almost all the countries I have lived in, there have been debates, discussions, and demonstrations against or for illegal immigrants. Some want them to be sent back to their countries; others want them to stay where they are as they are while others think that all of them should be given visas, work permits or whatever cards that would allow them to stay where they are.

They are talked about as if they were a homogenous entity, and not as if they were a group made of numerous individuals with different stories. We deal with them as we deal with people we don’t know what to do with. We put them in groups, then give those groups names. In that way, we don’t have to know the names of individuals. And if they don’t have a name, they don’t have a face. And if they don’t have a face, well they don’t exist. If they don’t exist we can implement whatever policy we want to settle their fate. Why care? They are non-persons.

Deciding to make all illegal immigrants leave a country is as foolish as asking to let them be or to give all of them visas. They are individuals. They have different stories. They have different reasons for being where they are. There might be some among them fleeing because they broke the Law and need to pay for it. There might be some who were looking for hope, for a country where they could breathe and dream. There might be some whose lives were in danger, who had to choose between death and illegality. There are some who have given birth to children where they are. There are some who just have nowhere to go. If they were to go back where they came from, they would have no place to stay, no friends, no family, no one to welcome them, and nothing to live with and for.

So what to do with them? Maybe we just need to see them as individuals and not as an annoying or needy group. Maybe we just need to listen to each story, then to take decisions accordingly. Surely, we need to be open-minded and compassionate. Surely, whether they have to stay or leave, we need to make sure they will receive all the help they need to begin a new journey. And even if they are criminals, we need to make sure their rights are respected. And always we need to remember that our societies are as strong as the weakest of their members, even if they are illegal immigrants.