Migrants, Morals, & Laws

Posted Mar 4, 2008
Last Updated Apr 6, 2008

Morals, Migrants, and Laws: a perspective

    I'm more or less maundering here, sorting my way through the subject(s), and writing down how it seems to me.  I have no actual solution.  But listening to what politicians have said, they don't either, and my views are at least not shopworn.

    Illegal immigration is a major issue in the approaching 2008 elections.  In some states, according to polls, it's the leading issue.  What are, in fact, the problems growing  out of illegal immigration? 
    There are real economic problems, complicated by real economic benefits.  They need to be honestly discussed, debated, sorted out, weighed and measured.
One claimed problem that holds a major place in discussions/arguments is morality.  Immorality is always a problem.  So is illegaliy.  As for illegal immigration?      Immoral doesn't necessarily equal illegal.  Look at it.  Actually look at it!  Immoral doesn't necessarily equal illegal.  Do you consider sex outside of marriage immoral?  Is it illegal?  Do you consider greed immoral?  Is it illegal?  Do you consider profanity immoral?  Does profanity include words for body parts?  Bodily waste?  Or just the name of the Deity, used in vain?  Why was "devil" considered a swear word, 60, 70 years ago?  Are any of them illegal?

    Morality includes a range of issues, some compelling, some dubious.  It's a judgment call.  To the Taliban, for a woman to expose any part of her body to view in public — including her eyes! — is scandalously immoral, and grounds for execution.  Those differences in judgment are a major reason for having laws.  Can you imagine your great-grandma being publicly stoned for walking to church in her Sunday best?
    In a democracy, many things that are widely held to be immoral have resulted in laws which make them illegal.  At the same time defining not only how serious the offense is, but in a broad sense the severity of the punishments.  Given human flaws, laws are a necessary tangle.  And also given human flaws, laws can be fallible.  Unjust. 
    Of course there are the indignantly self-righteous who treat the absence of a law as an affront, and personally inflict punishment for legal acts that offend them.  Most often those punishments are acts of the sort that Jesus preached against, which seldom hampers the self-righteously indignant.  But Jesus wasn't big on forbidding — or on punishment — and somebody has to punish those degenerates.  Ah delicious self- righteousness.  Slurp!  I seem to be enjoying a snack of it right now.  Chocolate-coated self-righteousness.  But  I wouldn't urge a law against it.
    And of course, laws don't always work as wanted — some miscreants, or their lawyers, are pretty darn slippery, and some judges can be dishonest when it suits them, and when enough $$$ change hands.
    "All that's beside the point, John.  Dammit!  Right is right!" 
    Good.  Then go out and get enough popular support to get an appropriation bill passed.  To pay for enforcement, you know.  Enforcement year after year, or we'll slide back into the same stupid situation we have now. 
    At any rate, morality has no legitimate (in the ordinary sense) place in the issue of illegal immigration.  And no rational place in the debate on whether immigration laws are good or bad.  There are already immigration laws.  They're a fact of life.  They have been beginning in 1882, when the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed.  It would be followed by numerous others, beginning with the 1921 Emergency Quota Act.
    As for how our illegal immigrants should be dealt with: just how severe was/is the crime of illegal immigration?  Depends on the crime, and (if its really justice you want instead of self-satisfaction) it also depends on the circumstances.  Circumstances are often considered in the courts; they should be considered in debates and discussion, too, and often they are. 
    There is also the matter of harm done to others — murder is one thing, an insult another.  There is also the matter of entrapment — the law may have been  unenforced for decades.  Now you're enforcing it.  How hard are you going to hit people who came here illegally back when it seemed — okay?  Laws treated as not important enough to be worth serious enforcement.  Like the old traffic laws that were lopped wholesale from the statute books in the 1960s.  For instance: "all automobiles within the village limits must be preceded by a man on foot carrying a red flag."  No one had heeded that since 1904.  Suppose I drove through town in 1950, not preceded by a man with a red flag.  What then?
    Not a fair example?  Maybe not, but it makes a valid point.

    Now.  What about this scenario?  Candidate X challenges candidate Y with: "How are you going to stop illegal immigration?" 
    Candidate Y replies:  "When I am elected, I will immediately convene a meeting of congressional committee persons, the Attorney General, the Director of..."
    Candidate X explodes with indignation.  "That's no answer, that's a dodge!  Tell me this then!  Will you or will you not end illegal entry into the United States of America?  Yes or no!"
    It can be a dodge, but to largely shut down illegal immigration will take a lot of doing.  And money, because it will require a lot of knowledge, planning, people, training, and from the very beginning, agreements. 
    Any jackass can bray, including Candidate X, but demanding a yes or no answer is comparable to asking "have you stopped beating your wife?" "Yes" means you beat her in the past, but not recently.  "No" means I used to beat her and still do — or "I've never beaten  her."
    To say you'll end illegal immigration is an empty intention.  To reduce it by, say 70%, will take a very thorough and very public sorting out and examination of all the aspects — all of them.  On both sides of the border.  With nothing omitted.  Otherwise we create a spectrum of new problems.
    And it will require a real leader, a leader with high intelligence and exceptional judgment (they don't always go together), someone who appoints people of superior ability, and who can inspire, and as necessary rein in, the people he appoints.  Someone with a sense of what the nation will agree with, not just what his cronies like.  That won't cut it.  It's a matter of what enough citizens will go along with. 

    And even that won't guarantee a good result.   Consider:  Constitutional amendments are a lot more difficult to pass than ordinary laws.  But in 1919 the United States passed the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, prohibiting the manufacture, transportation, sale or purchase of intoxicating beverages.  Hurray hurray!  No more drunkenness, no more ruined families, ruined lives, abused children...
    Yeah?  Not hardly.  Instead, Prohibition launched thousands of criminal careers, financed innumerable crime families, and made law-breakers of a sizable percentage of adult Americans.  You there!  Mr. Self-Righteous!  Did any of your grandparents and great grandparents ever drink an alcoholic beverage in the United States during Prohibition?  Are you then a progeny of criminals?  (Ah, there I go again: a poster boy for the Self-Righteousness Movement.  But at least I recognize it, a step in the right direction.)
    Perhaps more to the point, how many serious drinkers stopped drinking because of the 18th Amendment?  Prohibition almost certainly reduced some people's drinking, but all in all it was a costly failure.  By the end of 1933, "the  Great Experiment" was over, and  millions of citizens promptly got drunk to celebrate: celebrate because the nation had ratified the 21st Amendment, the only constitutional amendment passed to nullify an earlier amendment. 

    Just in case Candidate X doesn't get the point, the point is, a law needs to be workable.  And it helps if it's just.  And if there are design problems, it's a good idea to do a good job of designing some short-term fixes and some long-term solutions. 
    Or maybe Candidate X doesn't care about workability.  Maybe he's just using the issue as a political gimic, to get folks to vote for him.  Candidate Y had the right idea: design intelligent, workable, just legislation or leave it be.