18 May 2008

Immigration Law: Which End to Enforce?

An article in the Washington Post on Saturday discusses the recent federal crackdown on illegal immigrants in the workplace. According to the article: “Monday's [May 12th] raid on the Agriprocessors plant, in which 389 immigrants were arrested and many held at a cattle exhibit hall, was the Bush administration's largest crackdown on illegal workers at a single site ... Half of the school system's 600 students were absent Tuesday, including 90 percent of Hispanic children, because their parents were arrested or in hiding.”

All that disruption happened in a town of about 2,300 people, the article reports. The effects on the town will obviously be great and far-reaching.

There is, of course, the obligatory reference to the Bush administration and the reports that many in the town complain that the company itself was not targeted directly implies that the Bush administration is pro-CEO, anti-immigrant – or anti-illegal immigrant. If it were only that easy to slice the problem, then perhaps swift and decisive action against employers would be the way to go. What is ignored is that it doesn’t matter whether it is Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that does the deporting or if illegal immigrants are forced to leave because employers refuse to face the legal implications of hiring them. Either way it goes, there will be much discomfort for all around before the issue is put to bed.

Julie Myers, who heads up ICE for Homeland Security, claims that nabbing corporations for hiring illegals is difficult and time consuming according to the Post article. Therefore, it is easier, under current law, to go after individual employees. This seems to make sense. It is also something that has a remedy – Congressional action. Congress, however, hasn’t done much more than talk about illegal immigration, and much of that blaming and accusing opposing sides. So what’s the ICE to do? It has to use the tools it currently has at its disposal.

There is a long-term upside to the tactic of mass roundups of illegals, especially those who all work for a single company, as in the case of Agriprocessors. Though the Federal government, through self-imposed limitations, cannot easily go after companies directly, it can take away large portions of a company’s workforce – if that company employs large numbers of illegals – without warning. Such action by the Feds will, doubtless, have a greater economic effect on a company than dragging the company through endless court battles. That threat may be enough for companies to reverse hiring practices.

The unfortunate thing, though, is that human being are involved. Because humans are involved, all sorts of emotions get stirred up and all sorts of “exceptions” seem plausible simply because we tend toward sympathy – as we should be, generally speaking.

While it may appear that those of us who want strict immigration enforcement are simultaneously heartless, that is far from the case. As an advocate of strict immigration enforcement, I would much rather have a full accounting of all people in the US, lawful or otherwise (which, I realize, is impossible…so as full an accounting as is humanly possible). From that point, we could impose legal means for assimilating the hard-working, law abiding illegals.

But at some point, and at an appropriate level, the process must become completely devoid of emotional decisions. Illegals who have been convicted of a felony must be deported. Illegals who are incapable of holding employment must be deported. Additionally, these must be in place regardless of family ties. A son or daughter of an illegal must not be able to stay in the country simply because “breaking up the family” is considered “inhumane”. Family members who commit felonies are obviously not benefiting from (nor beneficial to) a family situation.

Above all, the border must be secured and penalties for entering the country illegally must be harsh and immediate.

Two things will stop the sort of action taken against Agriprocessors by ICE from taking place again. It is an election year, so these kinds of necessary and painful solutions will be pushed further down the road by our wonderful elected officials. Second, emotion will cause many of the loudest voices (some of which are those same elected officials) to condemn ICE, the Bush administration, Republicans, and border and immigration enforcement folks (like myself) for being heartless, xenophobic thugs.

What this situation calls for is much less emotion. Indeed, emotion has caused the illegal immigration problem to go on this long. We are a country of laws – or we ought to be. Laws do not, in themselves, have emotion. Enforcing laws require us to think and reason, not feel. If we allow our laws, or the enforcement thereof, to be driven through emotion, then illegal immigration is only one of many potentially damning problems our country will face in the coming decades.

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