Monday, December 14, 2009
Immigration & Entitlement (part I)
Heather MacDonald is a writer who is always armed with hard facts, clear logic and honest analysis. In her essay she deconstructs the demands and arguments put forth by proponents of immigration amnesty as examples of the inflation of rights and the expansion of entitlement that underlie many of America's economic and social ills.
This helps explain my seemingly contradictory positions on undocumented immigration: I am not so troubled by the violation of immigration laws, yet I am bothered by protests against the application of immigration law.
The majority of people take calculated risks and violate the law for personal gain. For example, late one night I was driving through an empty road and decided to exceed the speed limit by 15 miles per hour to hasten my journey home. Unfortunately, I was pulled over and ticketed by a police officer. My first instinct was to argue that I should not be punished because my behavior didn't pose a real and present danger to the public. But, later I realized that the police officer did have the right to punish me to the full extent of the law. Why? Because even an imperfect system of traffic laws protects the public. And in order to uphold that system, the law has to be objectively applied at all times, even when its violation poses no immediate threat to the public. Although I was unhappy with the costly punishment that I received, I could not argue against the law itself. To do so would be paramount to saying that traffic laws are not vital to public safety. And in a larger sense my protest would have implied that the application of laws should be determined by those who violate them and not by the general public via their elected representatives , which is clearly an indefensible position.
Even more so, these same principles apply to the violation of immigration laws. The vast majority of undocumented immigrants are decent, hard working individuals who do not pose a threat to the American public. These individuals took the calculated risk of violating American immigration laws in order to flee the dire economic circumstances of their native countries. In most cases they do so in order to provide for the most basic needs of their families. This is something that I and the majority of American citizens would do if we faced similar circumstances. Accordingly, I refuse to pass judgement on these individuals.
But, just like with traffic laws, we cannot deny that the enforcement of immigration laws is vital to the safety and welfare of the United States. And I have yet to hear a reasonable argument against a nation's right to determine who enters and works in their territory. In order to maintain the integrity of a system, the cost of violating its laws must exceed the benefits that a law breaker hopes to enjoy. In other words, those who violate immigration laws have to face consequences. And to protest against those consequences represents an inflated sense of rights and an expanded sense of entitled that are not grounded in reason.
But, some will argue that the punishment that violators of immigration law face are too harsh. Returning to the example of traffic laws, we can say that the heavy fines imposed on violators of traffic laws (who were not involved in traffic accidents) impose undue burdens on individuals who posed no direct threat to the public. After all, the majority of people who modestly exceed the speed limit do not get into serious accidents, so a $250 fine and a day at court seem excessive, especially for a working class driver.
So, why not reduce the fine to a reasonable level of say $50? Or better yet, why not offer an amnesty and eliminate the burden of past traffic tickets? The problem is that a "reasonable fine" or an "amnesty" would lead to a systematic increase in the violation of traffic laws and ultimately increase the numbers of accidents, injuries and deaths. The same can be said for immigration law; more lenient fines would lead to a sharp increase in undocumented immigration. And although an amnesty would pull millions of good, hard working people out of the shadows, within 10 years the "shadows would be filled with millions more" and we would be back at square one.
So, the purpose of penalizing those who violate immigration laws is to decrease future violations of immigration laws. And although the majority of undocumented immigrants are positive, hard working people, the phenomena of massive undocumented immigration has negative economic effects. And clearly it represents an erosion of the the rule of law.
Those who protest the application of immigration laws possess the implied belief that laws should be determined by those who violate them and not by elected officials who purportedly represent the broad interests of American citizens. Whether we are discussing traffic law or immigration law, this is clearly an indefensible position. Changing a law by subjecting it to public debate and the legislative process strengthens democracy and the rule of law. But, when a law is negated by permitting the systematic violation of its tenants, democracy and the rule of law are eroded. And if the impetus of that change originates from the efforts of non-citizens, a nation's sovereignty is also eroded. The great irony is that the very rule of law that has (at least indirectly) drawn millions of immigrants to the United States has been eroded by the pandering politicians who have allowed uncontrolled immigration.
Postmodern “Rights” en Los Estados Unidos
By Heather Mac Donald
With last month's mass demonstrations of illegal aliens, the United States has entered the era of postmodern rights. The protesters looked like conventional rights demonstrators, with their raised fists, chants, and banners. But unlike political protesters of the past, the illegal-alien marchers invoked no legal basis for their claims. Their argument boils down to: "We are here, therefore we have a right to the immigration status we desire." Like the postmodern signifier, this legal claim refers to nothing outside of itself; it is, in the jargon of deconstruction, a presence based on an absence.
The consequences of this novel argument are not insignificant: the demise of nation-states and of the rule of law. Remember: The only basis for the illegals' demands is: "I am here." The "I am here" argument could be made by anyone anywhere — a Moroccan sneaking into Sweden could make the same demand for legal status. In one stroke, the border-breaking lobby has nullified the entire edifice of American immigration law and with it, sovereignty itself. None of the distinctions in that law matter, the advocates say. The conditions for legal entry? Null and void. The democratically chosen priorities for who may enter the country and who not? Give me a break! In other words, the United States has no right to decide who may come across its borders and what legal status an alien may obtain upon arrival. Those decisions remain solely the prerogative of the alien himself. The border no longer exists.
The American legal tradition has until now assumed that it takes a congressional enactment or a judicial ruling to overturn a duly enacted law. With the ubiquitous chant, "No person is illegal," first popularized by Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahoney, that tradition is over. Pace Cardinal Mahoney, under existing immigration law, a person may in fact be "illegal," if he has broken into the country without permission or has overstayed his visa. Mahoney and the hordes who have taken up the "No person is illegal" slogan beg to differ. No law has the power to confer illegal status on an alien law-breaker, they say. Therefore, the existing laws are void — simply because the illegal aliens and their supporters do not like them, not because Congress has decided to withdraw them. This alleged power to overturn laws based on sheer presence is a remarkable new constitutional development.
Efforts to analogize the illegal-alien protests to the civil-rights movement are ludicrous. Blacks were demanding that state governments end the unlawful deprivation of rights that they already possessed under the Constitution, and for which the nation had fought a traumatic civil war. The illegals are claiming rights to which by law they have no right and for which they can make no legal argument whatsoever. If their movement succeeds, it will not be possible to deny any future rights claims in any sphere of life or activity. The claim for same-sex marriage, opposed by many of the same conservatives who so genially support the illegal-alien movement, rests on far stronger Constitutional grounds than the "I am here" claim for legal immigration status. And we will have no basis for opposing the demands for legalization by every future border trespasser, who, along with today's illegal aliens, can simply state: "I am here."
It is easy to understand why the multicultural lobby, with its antagonism to American identity, is pushing so hard for illegal-alien rights. It is less easy to understand why many conservatives, who otherwise stand for unfettered American sovereignty in all matters international, are so eager to dissolve not just our immigration laws but the principle of lawmaking behind them. They may soon discover that a postmodern conception of rights leads to a postmodern conception of nationhood.