Wednesday, May 07, 2008

What Should We Do About Illegal Immigration?

Illegal immigration is a complex issue. No one is happy about the large number of illegals that fill our prisons for committing other crimes. Border communities struggle to provide public services to burgeoning immigrant populations. The email circuit is filled with dire estimations of the public cost illegals place on the system. People are frustrated with evidence that we are being forced to become a bilingual nation.

And yet there is more to the story, especially when you put a human face to it. Most of the immigrants that are here illegally were once legal residents whose visas have expired. Our immigration policy is so bizarre, outdated, and poorly administered that honest people often find themselves victims of government ineptitude.

In Ogden’s inner city we have Spanish speaking Boy Scout units. The adults and youth that participate in these programs wear the American Flag on their uniforms. Each week they salute the American Flag and pledge allegiance to the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands. And we want to kick these people out of the country?

Last year, angry Americans shut down the U.S. Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform bill. It went too far and made too many compromises. Politicians that are used to being above the rabble of the citizenry were both shocked and angry to be called on the carpet.

One of the buzz words that make average Americans angry is amnesty. Studies show that Americans largely oppose amnesty for illegal aliens. This cuts across party lines and is especially strong among those that consider themselves to be somewhat or strongly conservative. We don’t like it when people cheat the system.

But one pundit recently questioned why entering or staying in this country illegally should be the only legal violation for which there is no remedy. For every other legal violation (short of permanent imprisonment and death penalty cases), violators can pay their debt to society and move on. Are immigration violations to be the only case besides extremely violent crime where reconciliation is impossible?

The Sutherland Institute, which has taken a lot of heat over its advocacy of conservative issues in Utah, has developed this position statement about immigration issues. This much longer essay provides more detail and argues the institute’s position.

The institute begins by recognizing that immigration is ostensibly a federal issue. Since the feds aren’t fixing the system’s problems, state and local governments are left to deal with the results. The Sutherland position states:

“We draw a distinction between the illegalities surrounding the broad experience of well-meaning and otherwise law-abiding people who have violated federal immigration laws and malicious criminals intent on harming our citizens. Violation of these laws is a public transgression, not a moral sin.”
That statement is sure to rile some people right there. My father and many other immigrants that went through the process to come here legally feel that those that are here illegally ought to be packed up and shipped home pronto. But the statement above actually recognizes realities on the ground.

Sutherland presents four statements to describe its beliefs about immigration:
  • We should welcome all people of good will to our state.

  • We should not serve as proxy law enforcement officials for the federal government regarding our neighbors in violation of federal immigration laws

  • We should seek economic transparency and personal accountability for all Utah residents.

  • We should encourage our neighbors in violation of federal immigration laws to become thoroughly assimilated, literate and productive members of our community.
Many people I know will take exception with the second point. They view requiring employers to clear prospective employees’ social security numbers through a national database before engaging them in employment as a minimal cost. Those that are here illegally, and especially those that are engaging in identification theft, would be shut out of job opportunities. Thus, their incentive for being here would evaporate. Sutherland claims this view is over simplistic.

Employers also have concerns about becoming the nation’s unfunded immigration cops. This 1/27/08 Dallas Morning News article details at length some of the arguments on both sides of this issue. Beside the fact that the verification process is error prone, officials think that an employer simply telling the applicant that they can’t have a job isn’t enough. They want employers to actually take enforcement action. Employers feel that this is unreasonable. It smacks of the old Soviet Union.

If you look at Sutherland’s third and fourth points, however, you will see that these are intended to mitigate the need for turning citizens into immigration enforcers. Instead of driving immigrants away, Sutherland proposes that we invite immigrants to become fully functional members of American society, both economically and culturally. Of its fourth point, the Sutherland statement says:

“This includes mastery of the English language, study of the texts of the United States and Utah Constitutions and other source documents associated with this nation’s and state’s founding, an understanding of and commitment to the essential features of personal responsibility, free markets, and limited government, and preparing for citizenship.”
I have long felt that it is essential for all Americans, including immigrants, to buy into the American ideals around which our nation was founded. This will make our nation strong and will protect our liberties.

In the end, Sutherland reminds us that “illegal immigrants are real people with real families in search of America’s fullest privileges.” The paper implores us to respect their humanity. While making it clear that criminal activity cannot be tolerated, the institute says:

“We believe people are not the problem; people are always the solution. Immigration policy should focus on fixing broken systems and failed policies, not on punishing people of good will simply seeking a better life in the face of its harsh realities.”
The obvious retort to the Sutherland position is that the institute is merely echoing the positions of big business, which seeks to cut costs by exploiting illegals with low wages and no benefits. Sutherland President Paul Mero claims in the preface to the Sutherland essay, “… we view this issue morally as much as we view it socially, culturally, and eco­nomically.” Mero also writes that the Sutherland position, while certain to be controversial, “strives to reflect an authentic conserva­tism.”

Tomorrow: Authentic Conservatives vs. Political Conservatives


DinTN said...

Website up soon:
"We will close our borders and ports. Illegal immigration STOPS the day we take the White House!
We will not provide amnesty to anyone. There will be no welfare for illegal immigrants! We will end birthright citizenship! There will be no more anchor babies!"

"It is absolutely ludicrous to say we are fighting a war on terror half way around the world when we refuse to secure our borders and ports. If I were President, I would immediately seal our borders. I would also see to it that employers in America who knowingly hire illegal aliens are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. In plain language: any employer who consciously hires illegal aliens would go to jail. They would not pass Go; they would not collect $200; they would go straight to jail."

Anonymous said...


I wish we had posed the same question in our essay that you have posed in your post:

"Are immigration violations to be the only case besides extremely violent crime where reconciliation is impossible?"

This question is especially germaine to the topic as we look at the nature of immigration laws being positive (malum prohibitum -- in legal terms) verus a moral (malum in se).

Here's a good link talking about the difference between the two using immigration law as a starting point: Cafe Hayek


Scott Hinrichs said...

Lyall, I have also written on occasion about the difference between malum prohibitum and malum in se. See this post for example.

DinTN, opinions like this are the reason nobody is flocking to the CP. It makes people think that CP stands for "crackpot."