3 Common Arguments For Overlooking Illegal Immigration That Don’t Hold Water

3 Common Arguments For Overlooking Illegal Immigration That Don’t Hold Water

If Americans don't like our immigration laws, the answer is not encouraging foreign citizens to completely disregard them. The answer is respecting the law until it can be changed. The alternative is anarchy.
Robert Steinbuch
By

The United States is the greatest country in the world in no small part because we are a nation of laws. Law is not designed to bend to individuals’ personal preferences; instead it is written, as best is possible, to have one meaning and the same application to all who encounter it. Any other approach is antithetical to what makes this country the envy of the free world and the enemy of the rest.

Unfortunately, today we see, in the context of immigration law, the desire by some to bend the law to their political preferences. More on that in a moment. First, let me present the unfortunately required identity statement that may permit me the privilege to opine on immigration.

I’m the son of legal immigrants. My father was a refugee whose family fled to America in Germany after World War II. So I have some personal understanding and appreciation for those seeking out the goodwill of the American people in the face of persecution.

By the way, my father was not in a concentration camp, but other relatives were. And, clearly, the United States does not operate concentration camps. Those words have meaning too.

Breaking the Laws Without Punishment Creates Chaos

Now back to the substance: Objectors to the administration’s plan to deport those who (1) came here seeking asylum (many never having serious asylum claims in the first place), (2) received a negative determination after undergoing full legal process, (3) were ordered to leave the country, and (4) patently ignored that lawful order from the government of the country whose grace they seek seriously undermine the basic notion of law on which this nation admirably operates.

Many objectors cannot openly state their slow-motion call for revolution because they’re elected officials who’ve sworn to uphold the Constitution — the same oath legal immigrants, including those receiving asylum, take upon being granted the distinct honor and unparalleled privilege of U.S. citizenship. Clearly, these objectors want to change the law. But to what?

Notwithstanding their vociferous claims to the contrary, it becomes increasingly difficult to decipher the scant difference between their position and one for open borders, which they dare not publicly embrace. Their verbal gymnastics demonstrate that the public significantly favors controlled immigration over the folly of the alternative.

Ultimately, objectors sing a seductive and destructive song for nullification. Such efforts alone don’t represent the four horsemen of an impending legal apocalypse, but they certainly breed even further contempt for the rule of law, seriously corroding our country’s moral foundation.

Federal lawmakers criticizing the president for faithfully executing the law argue he is heartlessly intimidating the immigrant community by enforcing immigration-court orders of removal. Let’s examine some of the arguments against removing those already adjudicated as being in the U.S. unlawfully.

1. Sometimes Family Separation Is a Consequence of Crime

Removing those lawfully ordered deported will sometimes result in (the seemingly tautological occurrence of) family members, including children, without deportation orders remaining in the United States without that deported family member. So, the remaining family will be altered, broken, even shattered.

Agreed. Of course, this exact outcome occurs every time an American citizen with a family is incarcerated for ordinary crimes. We, of course, don’t incarcerate the family members, nor do we ignore the crimes because of the collateral effects of law enforcement. Have we reached the point of treating illegal immigrants better than American citizens who commit crimes?

Commentators repeatedly bemoan the horror of separating families, and many want solely to address those immigration criminals who also committed violent crimes. No one can dispute that we can easily construct a hierarchy of wrongdoers to pursue. If our government officials charged with enforcing the law, however, cannot confidently say that illegal immigrants will be deported solely based on the fact that they either broke the law by illegally crossing into the country or by remaining here after ordered to depart upon failing (often transparently insufficient) asylum claims, those officials aren’t fulfilling their responsibilities.

The United States is the greatest country in world history. People from around the planet will always want to come here to get a better life, and if they do so illegally or remain after denied asylum, they must leave or be removed. Anything less is lawlessness.

2. Paying Taxes Doesn’t Exempt People from the Law

Many of those who will be deported pay taxes and offer value to their communities.

Agreed, although this can be misleading. The implication of the claim is often that illegal immigrants and those with denied asylum claims on average pay more in taxes than they receive in services from the government. False. On average, they earn modest incomes. Therefore, taxes removed simply don’t exceed the ubiquitous benefits these people actually receive.

Moreover, when illegal immigrants feign legal status to obtain employment, they inevitably violate a host of additional federal laws. Advocates of the “otherwise-legal” status for illegal immigrants routinely elide this.

But the broader point is far more important. Providing for the community through taxes or otherwise does exempt a person from the law. Imagine the implications if that were the case. Notorious gangster John Gotti lavished his community with riches, funded through his ill-gotten booty. That, of course, didn’t offset his wrongdoing. By the way, after he was convicted, he was separated from his family.

3. We Need More Law Enforcement, not Less

Deportation enforcement will drive immigrants underground rather than cooperating with law enforcement.

The irony is palpable given that local officials, such as New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, as a matter of policy, won’t cooperate with federal law enforcement regarding violations of immigration law. How can city leaders expect their residents to cooperate with local law enforcement if those leaders constantly reinforce the idea that the virtue of complying with law enforcement is entirely subjective?

That absurdity notwithstanding, basic economics teaches us that anytime we prohibit bad behavior, those engaging in that wrongful activity will be less likely to interact with police on other issues. That is true when drug dealers are robbed, pimps are assaulted, and thieves cheat each other. None of these people wants to expose their criminality to law enforcement. Thus, at least some of these wrongdoers will forgo having their legitimate rights enforced.

The solution regarding this concern is not avoiding the enforcement of immigration laws but ensuring better enforcement. If the problem of illegal immigrants weren’t so prevalent, then the concern about their unwillingness to interact with the police would subside.

Ignoring Laws Leads to Anarchy

This debate over illegal immigration is ultimately an argument over whether we intend to be a nation of laws at all. Are we willing to act through the democratic process together to create a single set of rules that bind us all to create a more ordered and safe society, a more perfect union?

Once enacted, those laws must bind all equally, regardless of who supported their enactment, for the system to persist. That’s what distinguishes enacted law from, say, the laws of physics. The latter laws require no buy-in for legitimacy or effectiveness. They exist regardless of preference, sometimes to the chagrin of skateboarders and the like.

But the laws of mankind require a significant level of compliance to be effective. If we move in the direction where the losing side disregards lawful enactments, then we actually have no law. The result, of course, is anarchy. That might, on first blush, seem freeing, but it is actually quite constricting of rights.

Only those few with the biggest clubs can exercise their will in such a regime. The rest will be subjugated, suffering from far greater diminution of freedom than having to comply with some laws that don’t comport with their personal policy preferences. Thus, as Winston Churchill famously observed, democracy remains the best, highly flawed system of government available.

Yet certain federal lawmakers still prioritize preening for cameras over setting forth serious policies addressing the perverse incentives that have led us to the crisis we face today. This is no small concern, and it occurs in a broader context in which too many pundits fashion claims seeking to make the law a monster. If that pursuit proves successful, this democratic experiment we call these United States will ultimately fail.

Robert Steinbuch is a 2015 Fulbright scholar and professor of law at The University of Arkansas at Little Rock, William H. Bowen School of Law. Steinbuch earned his J.D. from Columbia Law School and his B.A. and M.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. He served as counsel to the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the U.S. Internal Revenue Service.

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