When I was 11 or 12 I went on a long road trip with my Dad. It was on this trip that I learned about the law. Not the laws or the practice or the procedure of court cases, but the reason behind having laws. The law is an attempt at balance. Just that, an attempt at finding balance between the harm done, by people, by businesses or by governments and those who are harmed.
The attempt part is important because finding balance between multiple competing claims of harm is difficult at best and Sisyphean at worst. When looking at crimes against a person or property, the remedy is often clearest. If someone takes your car, you want it back and you want to be relatively sure they will not do it again.
"Originally posted at Squarestate.net"
When one person assaults another balance is a little harder to find. We don’t find that having the assailant beat up to be an appropriate form of balance. This leads us to rely on confinement and monetary punishment for putting the scales closer to even. This kind of penalty is an approximation of balance if not directly balancing.
The question becomes even muddier when someone breaks a law, but does not directly harm anyone else. What is the proper redress when a crime is considered to be committed against a society? The basic difference between a felony and a misdemeanor is the punishment. Misdemeanors are generally crimes that are punished by a fine and or one year or less in jail. Federal misdemeanors are crimes that we consider to be harm against the smooth working of our nation. They are crimes where the society takes on the role of the injured. There is quite a list of Federal misdemeanors, which include entering and working in this country without the proper documentation.
We have approximately 12 million informal immigrants living and working in the United States. There is no getting around the fact that doing so is a crime. It is not a crime directly against anyone, but it is more than a casual violation of the law. The question becomes how do we balance this situation?
If we take a narrow view, the solution seems to be easy; find them and send them home. This suffers from the problem of a simple solution for a complex problem. Finding and sending 12 million people, 4% of the total population of the United States, to another country is a logistical problem of epic proportions.
The fact is that it is not just the informal immigrants that are breaking laws. There are the people who bring them here. There are the people who employ them. There are the people who make a living from selling false documents. There is a whole structure of law breaking that has to be addressed in this issue.
There are also other complications; as part of our system of law, children born in the United States are citizens. This has been the same since we founded our nation and it does not matter how your parents got here, if you were born inside our borders we claim you as one of our own. Even if we were to choose the simplistic option of rounding up all the undocumented immigrants, some of them have children who are citizens. We have to consider the harm to our citizens, and our society by breaking up families. It is an aspect of balance which must be addressed.
In thinking about this issue there is another group who should be considered, those who do not take the informal route to coming here. They are the people who apply for visas and green-cards to come to the U.S. and work here legally. They follow the rules we set, they wait in long waiting lists to be able to live here. Surely their interest has to be balanced as well.
What is clear in this situation is that we can not be blind to the facts. Having so many people living outside the boundaries of law weakens many of the protections we have put in place. Being unable to complain about illegal treatment in housing or the work place means that unscrupulous employers can break the law with impunity. Being unable to get a drivers license or insurance means that accidents become more devastating to those harmed. The list of problems that flow from having a shadow economy is legion.
The law is an attempt at balance and we have to keep that in mind when we are enacting new law. It will never be completely fair or even. The Framers knew this and included a provision for pardons. As we look at the immigration issue, folks on all side should be focused on which solution comes the closest to balance, not what they think the perfect solution is. The reality it there is not prefect solution for everyone involved.
It seems to me the overall goal should be reducing the amount of crime that is associated with our informal immigrants. They have broken the law coming and working here; they should pay some form of restitution to balance the books. At the same time, we should not be making our laws so punitive that they do further injustice. Those who have stayed here and started families are exactly the kind of people we want in our society. To punish them by deportation is impractical and punitive.
The best way out of this situation and the fastest way to reduce the amount of criminality around it is to offer a way to come out of the shadows and join our nation legally. A fine, a start of the clock for becoming a citizen, and formal recognition of needing to do things the legal way going forward would address many of the problems. It is not completely fair to those who are waiting for visas, but it is a way forward that does not do greater violence to the balance that the law strives for.
The floor is yours.