Friday, May 16, 2008

The Insidious Nature of the Immigration Bills

The more I think about these immigration bills, the more angry and distraught I get. The reason why it affects me so much is because I know that the intent of these bills is not to serve as a mechanism of the enforcement of our country's immigration laws, but as an explicit threat to good, decent citizens. HB 1357 and HB 1358 specifically target US citizens who want to live a charitable and humanitarian life and who also want to be law abiding citizens. Most of us think the two notions shouldn't be in conflict. However, these insidious bills intentionally place good, decent citizens in a moral quandary by forcing a dichotomy between these two motivations for behavior. What they do is make a citizen choose between doing a voluntary good deed or wilfully violating the law by doing so. Let me give you an example, based on the story of the Good Samaritan from the Christian tradition modified to fit the current reality.

Your home is in Lakeview and is being renovated. You live in another part of the metro New Orleans area while your Lakeview home is being renovated, but you are at your Lakeview home every day doing little odd jobs to make it habitable and aesthetically pleasing once again. You are very satisfied with the renovation work and are looking forward to moving back home soon. While you are at your Lakeview home one day, trimming the hedges, there is an obviously Latino work crew hanging sheetrock. You hired the General Contractor whom you know is a citizen of the United States, and these Latinos are his workers. You know nothing about their immigration status and you don't care to know. As you are trimming the hedges, you hear some yells and some agitation coming from the back of the house. One of the workers comes running to you and says, in broken English, that his fellow worker has just had an accident with a skillsaw and has severed two of his fingers. You know that the General Contractor is not around. He just dropped off the crew and then went to check on another job. The worker with the broken English asks you if you can take his friend to the hospital, but to please take him to a hospital that will not report him because he doesn't have the proper documents to be in the country. Now, you didn't ask for this information, but now you know it. You are faced with a worker who has a couple of severed fingers and needs immediate medical attention; you are the only one who has a car that can transport this person to the hospital; and you know that he is undocumented. And just that morning, your read in the Times-Picayune that the Louisiana Legislature passed a bill which says that knowingly transporting an illegal immigrant is now against the law and that for you to bring this person to the hospital, you would be breaking the law. This is true regardless of whether you get caught or not. In fact, you know that the Legislature also voted against an amendment that would specifically exempt a humanitarian gesture like bringing this man to the hospital from the obligations of the law. So you know that your action would be illegal. And you also know that if you get caught or questioned about this person while in route to the hospital (or maybe someone might question you at the hospital itself), you run the risk of being arrested, fined $1,000, and possibly spend 6 months in jail. You're pretty sure that no one would ever fault you for doing this, but you can't be fully certain. So, you have to make a moral calculus: do you knowingly break the law, or do you bring this hurting man to the hospital?

That's what this legislation boils down to. It makes us citizens have to squirm a bit and ponder what this all means. For me, it's a no brainer. I take the man to the hospital, and I'll be a lawbreaker to do so. I have no problems living with that. But, heck, even I will give some thought as to the question. I'll go home and sleep easy that night. But that's me. How will you respond? What moral calculus will go fleeting through your mind at that moment in this scenario. You might, in the end, choose to bring this man to the hospital. But will you sleep easy that night in the knowledge that you broke the law? Will you experience a moment of doubt about what you did, not because what you did was wrong, but because you violated the law in doing so and you are not a lawbreaker? What will you tell the General Contractor the next time you see him?

All these questions are emotional and psycological burdens placed on the law-abiding citizen all because of doing a simple, decent, humane thing. Really, all because of doing the only thing a good, decent, moral human being can do.

If this insidious legislation is not intended to harrass the consciences of good people just doing good deeds, then it needs to be reformed, amended, or killed, because that's what this legislation will do. That's, in point of fact, precisely what it's intended to do. And it makes me angry to think about it. It makes good people have to decide between doing the right thing and breaking the law while doing the right thing.

And I don't care what these supporters of the legislation tell me. They can tell me over and over, again and again, that I would never be held to account for doing such a good deed. But I can read, and I know that the legislation, as written, doesn't back up what they tell me. I can read, and I know that these very same legislators specifically voted against legislation that would support their rhetoric. So, I am stuck with the uncertainty of what to do, as a good, decent, moral human being and as a law-abiding citizen. The path is muddy and the anxiety in riding down the path, no matter how great or small, is all mine -- all thanks to this legislation. And it's an anxiety that I didn't have before. That's why this legislation sucks. That's why it's bad. Because its purpose is to put me in a quandary and to make me anxious about having to choose between two things I value: doing what is morally right and being a law-abiding citizen.

The legislation deserves to die. Write your legislators, and particularly your State Senators, and demand that they do not force this horrible choice on you. Demand that they do not criminalize human charity and kindness. Demand that they not make you even have to ponder for a second that you could be a lawbreaker for doing what is morally correct.

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