Thursday, June 05, 2008

On Immigration: We're Talking Past One Another

The Times-Picayune has published a letter to the editor from an individual by the name of Joe Molyneux who writes in response to City Council President Arnie Fielkow's letter regarding the illegal immigration issue. Mr. Molyneux wrote in opposition to Fielkow's position and expressed support for efforts to curb illegal immigration. Here's what Mr. Molyneux wrote:

Re: "Piecemeal laws no way to handle immigration," Metro, June 2.

New Orleans City Council President Arnie Fielkow wrote a very moving and politically correct letter relative to immigration. However, the issue we face in America is illegal immigration. National security of this country should be a concern to all of us, not just the federal government.

Those who condone illegal immigration may not realize it, but they undermine our own laws in taking this position sending a message to those who break our laws that it is OK. Because most illegal immigrants come to the United States to make money does not make it right to subvert our laws. The end does not justify the means.

We do an injustice to those who come here illegally if we look the other way. We are implicitly telling them that our country is not based on the rule of law, that one can pick and choose reasons for breaking the law and suffer no consequences.

Joe Molyneux

First, let me note that Mr. Molyneux's letter was respectful and understandable. He speaks about respecting the rule of law, which is an important concept and is one that I think most of us would agree with. I certainly do. His reference to this "rule of law" argument in defense of the kinds of anti-illegal immigrant legislation working its way through the Louisiana legislature is one that I often hear anti-illegal immigrant folk make. But, I don't find that this "rule of law" argument is really being contested or challenged by those of us who oppose the kinds of anti-illegal immigrant legislation we are seeing in Louisiana (and in other states throughout the country). That is not the source of our complaint within the illegal immigration debate, nor is it the root of our disagreements, especially regarding the state-level anti-illegal immigration measures being considered. We are talking past one another. Let me use Mr. Molyneux's letter, Mr. Fielkow's letter, and Martin Gutierrez's recent Op-Ed piece in the Times-Picayune to demonstrate this.

Mr. Molyneux's argument assumes that the positions held by Arnie Fielkow and Martin Gutierrez are ones that "condone" illegal immigration. His entire argument is based on that assumption. He says that by thus condoning illegal immigration, Fielkow and Gutierrez are undermining the rule of law in our country. If Fielkow and Gutierrez were condoning illegal immigration, he might have a point. But if you read Fielkow and Gutierrez carefully, neither of them at any point condones, either explicitly or implicitly, illegal entry into the United States. Nor are they condoning or justifying breaking the law. I think what both are doing, in their own ways, is simply stating that regardless of the method of an undocumented immigrant's arrival to our community, it serves the broader interests of public safety and the general welfare, not to mention serves the moral imperative to good-neighborliness, to approach these individuals in our midst with compassion, charity, and in a welcoming spirit. Now, there may be some disagreement as to the severity of the illegal activity, but I would imagine that most fair-minded people would recognize that the vast majority of undocumented immigrants are not the kinds of hardened criminals that would warrant punitive social isolation and rejection from our community. I have heard many people say that they would happily welcome the very same undocumented people into their communities if they would just go through the proper channels to get here. To me, this implies that, unlike the hardened criminal, people recognize the goodness of most undocumented migrants such that having them as neighbors would pose no problem. They are not the drug dealers, the sexual offenders, the property damagers, the disturbers-of-the-peace, etc., whom most people either fear or wouldn't want in their neighborhoods.

It is recognizing this aspect of undocumented immigrants that motivates Fielkow, Gutierrez, and myself in terms of how we should approach the problem. There is no condoning of disrespecting the rule of law in this case any more than there is condoning law breaking of the chronic speed-limit violator. Unlike what Mr. Molyneux claims, national (and local) security is a concern for all of us. It is this concern for security which partly drives opposition to what Fielkow called "piecemeal state legislative efforts." Let's revisit what Fielkow actually said:
As we have seen in Congress, the immigration issue is a complex issue that cannot be thoroughly and equitably addressed through piecemeal state legislative efforts.

As a nation, we have a responsibility to develop and implement a comprehensive national immigration policy that is enforceable, does not create an undue burden on law-abiding citizens, respects and protects human rights and creates an atmosphere in which a community can thrive.
Where does Fielkow condone illegal activity? Seems to me his focus is on what these state legislative efforts will do to law-abiding citizens and our communities. Gutierrez is more direct and explicit in his comments about the "rule of law" concern. He writes in his Op-Ed:
The Catholic Bishops of Louisiana and Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans strongly believe in enforcement of the law. We do not condone illegal immigration. We are not in favor of open borders and are not suggesting blanket amnesty, but rather an earned path to citizenship for the deserving among the millions of hard-working, community-minded undocumented individuals and families in this country.

We support requirements to earn legal status including learning the language, undergoing a criminal background check, paying back taxes and paying a penalty. We support putting this group behind others waiting for their applications to be processed.

Imagine for a moment what would happen if these 12 million undocumented residents were suddenly deported, as some have demanded. Many of these people have been living in the United States for decades. They hold jobs, belong to churches, and have children and grandchildren who are native-born U.S. citizens.
Again, here Gutierrez explicitly says that the Catholic Church, whose position he represents, does not condone illegal activity. But, like Fielkow, his concern is what such legislative efforts at the state level will do to human dignity, families, and local communities.

In the end, I don't think Mr. Molyneux's "rule of law" argument is what is at issue. He misreads Fielkow, Gutierrez, and many others who oppose these state-level anti-illegal immigrant bills. Fielkow, Gutierrez, and others who oppose these state-level anti-illegal immigrant initiatives and who advocate for comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level wouldn't dispute the importance of the rule of law. But it seems that Mr. Molyneux, though he may not realize it himself, is refusing to see that what concerns Fielkow, Gutierrez, and other is what rash and polarizing local anti-illegal immigrant legislation will do to our security and to our sense of community. What Mr. Molyneux seems not to want to recognize is that what is driving these local anti-illegal immigrant initiatives is not so much grounded in maintaining the rule of law in the face of those who would break it, but playing on the fears of citizens and even threatening law abiding citizens with punitive action in the context of the illegal immigration issue.

Mr. Molyneux's letter contends that "the end doesn't justify the means." He was basically arguing that whatever benefits might be driving illegal immigration, those benefits don't justify subverting the law. Along the same lines, I might argue to Mr. Molyneux that targeting law-abiding citizens with punitive consequences and jail time for potentially doing a humantarian good deed for an undocumented immigrant is not the proper means that justifies resolving the illegal immigration problem. Yes, indeed, "the end doesn't justify the means." That's precisely the argument that many make against these local anti-illegal immigrant measures. And even then, there's no concrete evidence that the very means deployed in these measures will achieve the desired end. So, in a sense, Mr. Molyneux uses the same argument that I might use. Another striking bit of evidence that we are talking past one another.

On this issue, we need to talk to one another more, instead of talking past one another. If we could talk to one another more, we might find that we may agree more than we disagree. And we would certainly understand better what motivates us in those areas where we do disagree.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I, for one, am rather tired of hearing the argument of "hard workers" to justify illegal immigrants. As I mentioned in my recent letter to the Times Picayne, the end does not justify the means. It is of no consequence how hard one works if their entry into the United States was illegal, not undocumented, but plain, unequivocally, illegal.

Most who those who refer to this clearly illegal act of those who enter this country outside of border entry/exit points, do not realize that most all of these cases are felonies, not administrative or misdemeanor violations. First, most illegal immigrants (not all, but most) pay someone, i.e. a coyote, to assist them in getting across to the United States. This is in effect a "conspiracy." Two or more persons conspiring together, to take any action, in contravention of any law of the United States constitutes a felony, 18USC371.

There are many people that commit crimes, non-violent crimes, for a good cause (i.e cheating on income taxes) due to pressing family or personal issues. However, this does not make it right and they should be subject to what ever sanctions in law that apply. Illegal immigration is the same.

Second, the United States has a right to determine the make up of our country, the demographics, immigration issues, customs laws, and so forth. For twelve to twenty million people to come here, illegally, and force us to change our laws to address their issues, is morally unacceptable. Those who say we owe them a path to citizenship are wrong. These largely Hispanic, illegal immigrants, if allowed a path to citizenship after breaking the law, would irretrievably alter the character of our country. Rather than change our country to accommodate them (I am only referring to citizenship for those who come to the U.S. illegally), they should work to change their country for the better, under their own laws, with U.S. support if requested.

I am a dual citizen, both American and Italian. I have a number of close relatives in Italy that would like to immigrate to the U.S. but they must do so according to our immigration Law. Present immigration law , that has been working well until about 20 years ago, sets aside so many persons (specific numbers) from various regions of the world to legally immigrate to the United States each year. Those areas that the law provides for the largest numbers to legally migrate to the United States are from countries in which there are human rights issues (Asian and African countries) and those with political repression (also Asian and African countries). However, with so many illegal immigrants entering the U.S. from one geographic region, south of the United States, others that have a right under our present immigration law are being denied.

Americans who say for matters of safety we should welcome those who violate our law are using an argument that has no basis in fact. If these people are for the most part law abiding (of which I generally do not disagree), where is the safety issue? The issue is if they know they can not only come here illegally but they can come here illegally and be welcome, our law is being undermined at least in spirit by our own citizens.

Why are Americans so arrogant to believe that this is the only country in the world that must or can help those south of our border. Where is it written that Americans have an obligation to provide health care, jobs, social security and other benefits to those who come here illegally because they do not like their own government that they are responsible for putting in power.

Those who provide support to anyone who comes to the United States illegally have a moral obligation to report to the proper authorities that they are aware of a violation of our law, There is no moral obligation to do nothing and indeed those who hide them are complicit in violating the law, aiding and abetting, 18 USC 2.

When the Catholic Church (and I am Catholic) preach that we have a moral obligation to help those who break our laws, the Church takes a morally bankrupt position. They take a position of moral arrogance that the United States is superior or better than Mexico. I take the position that rather than illegals pay millions of dollars to pay coyotes and others to help them cross our borders, this money would go a long way toward achieving social and economic justice in their own countries by supporting their own national organizations that support political progress, eradicating corruption, and social justice.

If most of those who come to the United States illegally have jobs, have children here, and pay taxes, just what kind of help do they need in the first place?

Those who utilize these and similar arguments such as for safety reasons, illegal immigrants should have U.S. driver licenses , are void of any logic whatsoever (a Mexican drivers license is accepted in the United States according the two treaties of which the U.S. is signatory).

We do not need comprehensive immigration reform as much as we need enforcement of the law we have and for the Catholic Church and those who accept the violation of our immigration laws, to really take the moral high ground and preach breaking the law is morally wrong, that the U.S. is not morally superior to Mexico, that those south of our border should either stay there and work to make their government's better or abide by U.S. law and apply to come to the U.S. legally.

Dr. Joseph Molyneux