Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Right Kind of Justice For Illegal Immigration

We've entered a new era of creepy in the Utah immigration debates.  A group of "Concerned Citizens," who cowardly chose to remain anonymous, quietly spied on Hispanics and compiled a list of 1,300 names of people they claim are illegal immigrants.  They listed names, birthdays, addresses, phone numbers, workplaces, Social Security Numbers, and due dates of women who are pregnant.  There is good evidence that the group had illegal access to private information through government databases.  Besides being creepy and despicable, and this should come as no surprise, the list is also inaccurate.

The most common trope about illegal immigration is that it is just that, illegal, and that we shouldn't allow any illegal activity in America to go unpunished.  Turning a blind eye to illegal immigration undermines the rule of law, cheapens our legal system, and threatens our security.  These conservatives want the illegals rounded up and shipped off.  Their rhetoric, unfortunately, usually goes beyond simply wanting the immigration laws enforced, it usually contains a level of vindictiveness and anger that is easily associated with racism and xenophobia.  It is unChristlike and unbecoming of members of our faith.  They want justice through punishment.

What they are less interested in, however, justice through mercy, which is just as valid.  It is equally as just for me to forgive a neighbor of his trespasses against me as for me to prosecute my neighbor and demand the full weight of the law be brought down on him.  Of course, different crimes require different demands of justice.  We don't simply forgive a murderer, that is too heinous to apply easy mercy.  But we don't typically require speeders to be fully fined and prosecuted.  We have to use some judgment about where it is humane and reasonable to demand full justice through punishment or full justice through mercy.

So the question is where does illegal immigration fall in our sense of justice.  The facts are that most illegal immigrants come here to find a better life.  There are more jobs, security, and opportunities in America than nearly anywhere else on Earth.  We are a nation built upon the very idea immigration, most of it illegal or at least unethical, and that is not lost on those coming today.  They would likely go through the legal process of immigration if it were reasonably available to them, which it is not.  The vast majority of illegal immigrants are peaceful, otherwise law-abiding, intelligent, and hard working.  And Hispanic, which makes it easy for some to delineate differences from themselves and single them out.  It makes it easier to hate them.

My idea of justice is that it is not morally sound to harbor such hatred-filled feelings towards Hispanic illegal immigrants and demand full justice by punishment.  I don't think it fits the crime.  The crime is that they are simply here, they haven't infringed on any of my rights and haven't hurt me in any way.  The jobs argument is slippery at best.  They are simply generally good people trying to make their lives better in the only way they know how.  They have families and are trying to give their families the best life and most opportunities that they can.  Then some racist and McCarthy-istic group comes along and spies on them and feeds on their fears and threatens to bring down full punishment on them.

Justice through mercy is much more fitting.  If we identified them, gave them a path towards citizenship, enforced some penalty such as a fine or a loss of some social benefits until they become citizens, and dealt with them humanely and morally, we'd be much better off and justice would be much better served.

I would hope that Americans, and members of the Church in particular, learn to treat illegal immigration differently that other sorts of crime.  I would hope that we see them as children of God and try to help them instead of punish them.  I hope we enact the right kind of justice, and not the ugly kind that these "Concerned Citizen" predators are demanding.

1 comment:

Iliana said...

Amen. I like when we agree, it makes me much less irritated at you.