The Corner

Illegal Aliens, Cattle Cars, and Linda Chavez

Not to pile on, but I have a slightly different take on this than does Andy. (Surprise!)

I like and admire Linda Chavez, and appreciate her willingness to force Republicans into a deeper discussion when it comes to immigration. That being written: I wish that she would please knock it off with the “cattle cars” business. The appropriation of Nazi imagery for the U.S. immigration debate is wrong. It is trivializing. It is something in which serious-minded people should not engage.

Beyond that, there is something about the immigration debate that seems to discourage rigorous thought. Linda writes: “If you really want to drive up crime in Arizona, discourage teen-agers from going to school (or working, as many illegal immigrants already do, albeit illegally).” If by “teen-agers” she means both illegal aliens and teen-agers legally present in the United States, this sentence makes no sense: Even teen-agers have to show ID to get a job at Burger King. (I did.) At any rate, illegal-alien teen-agers and non-illegal-alien teen-agers are two very different classes of people; lumping them in together is clumsy thinking.  If by “teen-agers” she means only “illegal alien teen-agers,” then she’s got a different kind of problem: 1. We should be discouraging them from working. 2. Her argument can be translated: “If we stop illegal aliens from committing one class of crimes, some of them may start to commit crimes in a different class.” That is not much of an argument.

I also think it’s difficult or impossible to defend this sentence: “Yes, illegal immigrants, by definition, have violated our immigration laws. But those laws are outdated and do not allow sufficient numbers of legal immigrants or temporary workers to enter the United States to fill jobs that Americans aren’t taking.” Yes, marijuana users are, by definition, violating our drug laws. But those drug laws are outdated and do not allow for the sensible use of relatively benign substances such as marijuana, nor do they treat adults like adults. They are kind of stupid. But you still go to jail for selling marijuana, growing marijuana, or being in possession of marijuana. The law should be changed, but the law has not been changed. One might break the law as a matter of conscience in an extreme situation — those Nazi atrocities Linda calls to mind were lawful proceedings — but, despite some slippery rhetorical efforts to link the two: American immigration policy is not very much like any Nazi policy. And there clearly is no moral mandate for simply ignoring U.S. immigration law whenever it is convenient to do so

Linda criticizes the “slow, steady harassment” of illegal aliens. “Slow, steady harassment” is a pretty good working definition of about 80 percent of American law enforcement. It mostly works. You want to change the law, then change the law. But people who believe the way Linda believes about immigration have had ample opportunity to change the law through the democratic process. They have lost. They will continue to lose. A smart Republican party would get very loudly on the right side of this issue. (One might imagine that there exists such a thing as a smart Republican party, for the purpose of hypothesis.)


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