Monday, October 29, 2007

What Part of ‘Illegal’ Don’t You Understand?

The New York Times

I am a human pileup of illegality. I am an illegal driver and an illegal parker and even an illegal walker, having at various times stretched or broken various laws and regulations that govern those parts of life. The offenses were trivial, and I feel sure I could endure the punishments — penalties and fines — and get on with my life. Nobody would deny me the chance to rehabilitate myself. Look at Martha Stewart, illegal stock trader, and George Steinbrenner, illegal campaign donor, to name two illegals whose crimes exceeded mine.
Good thing I am not an illegal immigrant. There is no way out of that trap. It’s the crime you can’t make amends for. Nothing short of deportation will free you from it, such is the mood of the country today. And that is a problem.
America has a big problem with illegal immigration, but a big part of it stems from the word “illegal.” It pollutes the debate. It blocks solutions. Used dispassionately and technically, there is nothing wrong with it. Used as an irreducible modifier for a large and largely decent group of people, it is badly damaging. And as a code word for racial and ethnic hatred, it is detestable.
“Illegal” is accurate insofar as it describes a person’s immigration status. About 60 percent of the people it applies to entered the country unlawfully. The rest are those who entered legally but did not leave when they were supposed to. The statutory penalties associated with their misdeeds are not insignificant, but neither are they criminal. You get caught, you get sent home.
Since the word modifies not the crime but the whole person, it goes too far. It spreads, like a stain that cannot wash out. It leaves its target diminished as a human, a lifetime member of a presumptive criminal class. People are often surprised to learn that illegal immigrants have rights. Really? Constitutional rights? But aren’t they illegal? Of course they have rights: they have the presumption of innocence and the civil liberties that the Constitution wisely bestows on all people, not just citizens.
Many people object to the alternate word “undocumented” as a politically correct euphemism, and they have a point. Someone who sneaked over the border and faked a Social Security number has little right to say: “Oops, I’m undocumented. I’m sure I have my papers here somewhere.”
But at least “undocumented” — and an even better word, “unauthorized” — contain the possibility of reparation and atonement, and allow for a sensible reaction proportional to the offense. The paralysis in Congress and the country over fixing our immigration laws stems from our inability to get our heads around the wrenching change involved in making an illegal person legal. Think of doing that with a crime, like cocaine dealing or arson. Unthinkable!
So people who want to enact sensible immigration policies to help everybody — to make the roads safer, as Gov. Eliot Spitzer would with his driver’s license plan, or to allow immigrants’ children to go to college or serve in the military — face the inevitable incredulity and outrage. How dare you! They’re illegal.
Meanwhile, out on the edges of the debate — edges that are coming closer to the mainstream every day — bigots pour all their loathing of Spanish-speaking people into the word. Rant about “illegals” — call them congenital criminals, lepers, thieves, unclean — and people will nod and applaud. They will send money to your Web site and heed your calls to deluge lawmakers with phone calls and faxes. Your TV ratings will go way up.
This is not only ugly, it is counterproductive, paralyzing any effort toward immigration reform. Comprehensive legislation in Congress and sensible policies at the state and local level have all been stymied and will be forever, as long as anything positive can be branded as “amnesty for illegals.”
We are stuck with a bogus, deceptive strategy — a 700-mile fence on a 2,000-mile border to stop a fraction of border crossers who are only 60 percent of the problem anyway, and scattershot raids to capture a few thousand members of a group of 12 million.
None of those enforcement policies have a trace of honesty or realism. At least they don’t reward illegals, and that, for now, is all this country wants.


horse feathers said...

The difference with Steinbrenner and Stewart and their crimes was that their "illegality' stopped when there were not in the act of committing their crimes. For an illegal alien, his crime only stops when he leaves US territory. He is committing a crimes 24x7.

Anonymous said...

hmmm... so true... who will speak up for the Native Indians when Europeans (our ancestors), arrived here... 1457...

Anonymous said...

Illegal isn't the word you should worry about. Invader is the correct word for those who are in this country in violation of the law. And, invasions have a place in the US Constitution. According to that our document, invasions, and thus invaders, are to be repelled! This applies to the State governments under Article I, Section 10 of the Constitution and the feds under Article IV Section 4 of the same.

Invaders are to be repelled, not rewarded. The Constitution is clear on this matter. If illegal invaders who have a problem with our founding documents, well, maybe they should find some where else to live. It is a crime to invade someone's home, it is also a crime to invade one's country. Even a low-grade moron understands that. People who are here illegally are criminals and invaders, get used to it. If you had honorable intentions you would do things the lawful way in respect for, America, a nation of laws (not immigrants, they only came later AFTER the laws).

So, if you Irish have a problem with the people of this country demanding that our laws be obeyed, well, take that up with the Mexicans who have whorn out the welcome for illegal aliens. They have pushed the citizenry past the breaking point and for their greed, all other illegal invaders are forced to suffer.

I doubt you will post this, you never do want to face reality. But, you should stop blaming Americans for your problems. You have no one but yourselves to blame and the greedy Mexicans who have taken advantage and dumped over 10% of their entire population on the US taxpayer's doorstep -- year after year, after year, one decade after another. If you want change, have Teddy Kennedy repeal his 1964 immigration reforms. Then the Irish can apply, again. Until then, the Mexicans will always come first -- through extended family reunification.

Mrs. Janet Conroy

K. Shannon, Philadelphia said...

I like the word "unauthorized" because no one has taken the authority to identify the crisis and have an empathetic yet nationally protective solution.

Anonymous said...

To Mrs. Janet Conroy,

The whole idea of ILIR has been to bring about Immigration reform that would do just as you suggest and bring about a repeal of sorts of the 1965 immigration act.

Your inferring that the Irish are 'low grade morans' exemplifies the thought process of a bigoted person. Obviously Janet you are not a religious person.... nor are you a compassionate one.
You speak of 'Mexicans' as if they are sub-human. Have you given any consideration to the fact that some of these people are trying to make a better life for their families by escaping abject poverty in their own country. Are they any more invaders than American companies going to 3rd world countries and exploiting children so that you don't have to pay too much for your clothes, amoung other items?

Your assertion that the Irish have only themselves to blame and should stop blaming Americans for their problems is at best ill informed.
The Irish certainly do not blame Americans for the fact that they get only one half of one percent of Green Cards given out annually by the State Department.... but even 'low grade morans' would admit.... in a brief moment of mental clarity.... that that is not fair.

Janet...may the good Lord take a liking to you.... but nor too soon.

Lou Ferpo

Anonymous said...

Dear Mrs. Janet Conroy,

You are a perfect specimen of a bigot, with an outlook of a troglodyte. You should look at yourself in the mirror before calling Iris a "low-grade moron." Your "Invader" argument is asinine. Now it sounds like a worn out record. It reflects the fact that your IQ is below 10 and you Mrs Conroy represent the other fear mongering troglodytes who project similar outlook and IQ. You should go back deep under the earth and don't come out until you've achieved enlightenment. Till then keep eating 'trash!'

searching said...

"The statutory penalties associated with their misdeeds are not insignificant, but neither are they criminal. You get caught, you get sent home."

Repeat offenses in the case of illegal border crossings can be charged as a felony, although not usually prosecuted that way. In 1995, IDENT data indicated about 39% of illegal border crossers are repeat offenders.

"Of course they have rights: they have the presumption of innocence and the civil liberties that the Constitution wisely bestows on all people, not just citizens."

Ahh, but this actually contributes to the problem. The interpretation of the 14th amendment combined with the view that the civil rights act applies not only to citizens, or immigrants, but also those here illegally have led to a situation where in some ways those minority members that are here illegally have more rights then a citizen of the country, at least in actual practice. Immigration reforms should cover these areas as well.

I agree that some on the anti-illegal immigration side use rhetoric that is unsuitable. However, the same goes for the other side also. Some of the talk is very anti-US, as well as labeling anyone saying the laws should be enforced as "racist, xenophobic, bigoted, nativist".

"We are stuck with a bogus, deceptive strategy — a 700-mile fence on a 2,000-mile border to stop a fraction of border crossers who are only 60 percent of the problem anyway, and scattershot raids to capture a few thousand members of a group of 12 million."

The "fence" is needed for more then illegal crossings, the recent GAO reports highlight the need of a "fence" for security. The fence is more of a barrier then a fence, and most of it is actually technological. The "fence" was a recommended way back in the the 1994 U.S. Commission on Immigration report "U.S. IMMIGRATION POLICY: RESTORING CREDIBILITY "

The bipartisan Commission recommended many changes we still haven't seen today because of politics. Some of those changes would have stopped or at least deterred 9//11.

Recent GAO reports have also highlighted other problems, the Border Patrol Agents are overworked, lack the retirement benefits of other law enforcement officers, lack the training because of employee shortages. Its no wonder that the atrition rate is high among border patrol officers. Their job is not easy, and they do much more then just stop those illegally crossing borders. The GAO reports give insight into why a "fence" and better control of our borders is important beyond the issue of illegal immigration.

Amnesty is being used to mean a program which provides widespread legalization of those in the country illegally while not considering our current legal immigration requirements and needs.

That said although I am against "amnesty" in immigration reform, or anytype of "rolling amnesty", I am not necessarily against a program which allowed a change of status in the case of truly reciprocal and bilateral agreements. Each particular instance would depend upon the details. Such a program would have to meet the same legal requirements as our current legal immigration policies, change only to a tempory visa, and require a skills based test. The temporary visa would have to meet the same change of status as other visas to change to a permanent visa, etc. The countries would need to work together to diminish visa overstays.

I am against all illegal immigration except in the case of asylum-seekers, which our laws do allow for. However, because illegal-immigration has been so uncontrolled, most are demanding enforcement only.

Those from countries with relatively few illegal immigrants here should not have to suffer if a reasonable bilateral agreement can be reached with their home country.