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Deporting People We’ve Allowed To Stay Is Wrong And Counterproductive


My position on immigration is soundly conservative. I believe a nation possesses limitless discretion to allow or prohibit immigration as it wishes, in light of its cultural, economic, and security needs.

I support building a wall on our southern border, or whatever other measures will ensure that immigration into our country remains legal and orderly. I think targeted restrictions on immigration from terrorist hotspots make perfect sense, and cannot understand how anyone can dismiss such restrictions out of hand. I despise the Left’s efforts to place the topic of immigration “out of bounds,” by labeling everyone who rejects their “no borders” insanity as racist or xenophobic.

So when I say that the deportation of Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos is a disgrace, and should offend every American, I hope I will not be mistaken for one of the progressive ideologues spouting off on this case. I have no partisan axe to grind here. But hopefully there is still room in our politics for non-partisan outrage—the kind of outrage that ought to awake in us when we see our government inflicting its bureaucratic caprice upon an impoverished family.

Let Me Explain What Happened

The facts of Rayos’ case do not appear to be in dispute. Living in this country as an illegal immigrant since age 14, she was arrested eight years ago on charges of identity theft, stemming from her use of a counterfeit Social Security number (a practice apparently common among such immigrants).

Despite originally being sentenced to deportation, she had been allowed to remain in the country if she continued to check in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials, which she regularly did. But when she went to the offices last week, she was arrested and subsequently deported, leaving behind two teen-aged children. They have since reunited in Mexico.

Call me a romantic, but I still believe in something like national honor. If our government granted Rayos explicit permission to stay in the country for nearly a decade, then it is perfidious for it to turn around one day, after she had established a life here, and throw her out. I know it will be said that we are a nation of laws. But for the last three decades at least, in the matter of immigration we have not been a nation of laws at all.

This cannot be undone in a day, with the signing of a few bureaucratic dictates. That is the way to exacerbate, not remedy, the injustice of the situation. Rayos’ deportation order had an effect almost identical to the passage of an ex post facto law, retroactively inflicting penalties upon her that were not in effect at the time of her arrest.

Illegal Residents Aren’t the Only Lawbreakers Here

The current administration has declared its intention to rectify our immigration policies. Well and good. But if in the course of fixing things some people must be punished for previous decades of lawlessness, why should it be the poorest and most vulnerable? It defies all notions of equity.

After all, if Rayos was guilty of violating our immigration laws, so were the officials at ICE who condoned it. So were all the government officials who permitted it, all the way up to President Obama. Why are they not facing consequences? If becoming “a nation of laws” again really means punishing the powerless and letting the powerful go scot-free, then it is all a load of hypocrisy.

This is not the way to address our immigration problems. A wise, methodical, distinguishing policy is called for now, a policy informed by that very sense of national honor I alluded to. Like it or not, we permitted these people to work in our country for decades, and we have all benefited from their labor. We cannot now, with any semblance of decency, go tearing up their families; separating husbands from their wives, mothers from their children. This is not the way to fix the problem.

If in the end, this means more of these immigrants will wind up settling here than we anticipated, then so be it. What might have been achieved humanely 20 years ago ought not to be achieved through inhumane measures now. Our nation would bear too great a moral cost.

It is deeply disturbing to see that such concerns do not seem to register with the present administration. Rayos’ deportation followed closely upon the administration’s travel ban, which was implemented in the most ham-handed manner imaginable. Trump and his inner circle appear intent to demonstrate their populist bona-fides without giving much thought to the way their decisions affect real lives. In doing so, they are discrediting the policy aims they espouse and many conservatives might support, if implemented judiciously.

Some proponents for Trump like to boast of the great thumos inspiring his politics. But I suggest they urge our president to display a little less assertiveness, and a whole lot more prudence and wisdom. He ought not to suppose that just because large numbers of Americans support some of his aims, they will tolerate any and all means to achieve them. He ought to recognize that the more he continues to pursue his policy aims in such a reckless and callous fashion, the more he will alienate people who would otherwise be broadly sympathetic to those aims.