Previously we've look at the notions of justice and mercy toward the poor in the immigration reform question. Now we'll look at the question: What do we do about the millions of illegal immigrants already in the US?
First, a little context to spread some light on my feelings. I know a lot of immigrants. A whole lot. At my work, you can’t throw a stick without hitting an immigrant (which, incidentally, they don’t like). They’re good folks who did things the right way – they waited their turn, go to great lengths to follow the rules, and live with all the hassles involved.
One in particular is a nice lady named Rosalind. She’s an immigrant from Great Britain. She waited more than 20 years for her sister to be able to join her here. There were other options, for instance her sister could have come on a tourist visa and overstayed, but they took the long and drawn out legal route. I’m sure you won’t be surprised that she, like so many legal immigrants, has some pretty sharp things to say about illegal immigration.
Legal immigrants will ask why illegal immigrants should profit from their crimes, and it is a reasonable question. It is also reasonable to ask, though, if it is practical to try to expel millions of people, most of whom are doing some kind of useful work.
Now, in these debates, the term “amnesty” gets thrown around a lot. Amnesty has been variously used, but in its truest form, it means to let an offender off without any punishment. A blanket amnesty of millions of people would send a poor message to everyone in this country and to those who might be tempted to enter the country illegally in the future – i.e., lay low for a while, they tend to grant amnesty every 20 years or so.
What is proposed in the current bill, however, is not amnesty in that sense. The proposal is that those who have been in the country illegally would have to pay thousands of dollars in fines to get citizenship. We can debate whether or not this is a sufficient penalty for illegally entering the country, but we should not call this amnesty, and continuing to do so will only continue our tradition of talking past each other on this issue.
Now back to the question: So how do we balance justice and mercy in this situation? My inclination is to allow those who are already in the country illegally an avenue to become legal residents (probably with accompanying fines). This ought to be pared with a crackdown on border security and a crackdown on employing illegal workers to prevent a fresh influx of people trying to get in on this deal and to prevent those who are here from thinking they can go on with business as usual. To preserve the notion that law breakers should be punished and to honor those who came here the right way, those here illegally should not, in my humble opinion, be able to earn citizenship without going back where they came from and getting at the back of the line.
There’s more to be said, but this has gone on long enough. Next time: my thoughts on what a comprehensive solution would look like.