Lowell at the Hedgehog blog site has been raising various practical arguments over the past months on why illegal immigrants should not be treated according to the law. Lowell is an insightful, level-headed commentator. So much so that I list his blog on my sidebar.
But, I think sometimes emotion rather than reason is leading the argument on this issue. Consider two of five questions raised in a Hedgehog May 24 posting on the issue:
Consider a man in his 20's who was brought here by his parents when he was 3 years old. He's grown up here, speaks English, can speak conversational Spanish but cannnot read or write it, and has graduated from college. He's married and has a couple of kids, who are American citizens because they were born here. He's never been to Mexico, or maybe has visited relatives there two or three times in his life. Do you really expect him to pick up and return to Mexico? What will the public reaction be to hundreds of thousands of such forced relocations? Do you want Republicans and conservatives to be identified with such personal tragedies, which will get endless news media attention? Note: I am not defending the situation of such a man; I am describing a reality that we have to deal with.
Do you have any close friends of Hispanic descent?
These are impact/relationship questions. They are important personal questions, but muddy rather than clarify the legal issues.
Everyone should be equal before the law. That one law breaker faces more personal tragedy in being punished than another law breaker should not be a factor in assessing punishment. If personal impact becomes the standard, law becomes a tool of personal preference and of who can generate the most sympathy. Justice needs to be "blind" to that kind of differentiation in order to be true justice.
In a posting today Lowell quotes Paul Greenberg:
Today the party of Lincoln is being told it should demand that all illegal immigrants be deported, even if that means breaking up families, disrupting the economy and denying immigrant mothers medical care and their children an equal right to a college education.
Does anyone think these children will forget how their families, their mothers and fathers, were treated once they grow up to become voters, as they surely will? Childhood hurts endure, and their fruit is bitterness.
All this is true. But, is it helpful in this discussion?
One could say the same thing about the families of any group of law breakers. Recreational pot users, underground economy participants, petty thieves, drunk drivers. Any time you deport or jail a law breaker it has a profound impact on the law breaker's family--especially if there are children involved.
This is an argument against enforcing all laws. At bottom it does not have to do with illegal immigration. Breaking the law has consequences. They are almost always very unpleasant, even hurtful, consequences.
The real issue is not what the impact of breaking the law is but whether a law is necessary and justly applied. I don't know of a responsible commentator who has made the case that immigration laws are unnecessary and unjust.
If we apply immigration laws only to some, we create another sort of outrage and bitterness. Mark Steyn has written of the inequities of current treatment of legal immigrants.
Or how about the people like me. My grandparents were immigrants. My uncle was deported forty years after he came to the US because he "mouthed off" to an immigration officer. He suffered; his adult daughters suffered; his parents suffered; his siblings suffered. He was bitter, but the rest of the family accepted it as within the letter of the law, and we believe in following the law. There is a salve in the fact that the law is being applied even when it is applied in a stupid and personal way.
Having lived in another country, I have friends who have not been given visas. Other friends have come expecting to settle, but their visas were renewed. That has resulted in trauma and upset to their families. Why should the laws applied to them not be reversed as well?
You see where this is leading? If compassion makes us disregard the application of the laws in the case of some people, it is only fair that compassion also require that the laws never be applied to anyone.
Seeing "preferred" law breakers go free while "unpreferred" get punished will not only impact future voting habits, but it is the recipe for societal chaos and vigilante justice. When justice isn't blind, you not only get bitterness but outrage.