Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Fallacy of Enforcement Only Thinking

"Let's just enforce the laws we have."  "We don't need immigration reform. We already have immigration laws on the books. Just enforce them."

Those are the refrains we hear over and over again from those who oppose any immigration reform.  It is a mindset that assumes that immigration laws are static, and ought to be so. 

But in a democracy, laws are not static and unchanging.  Laws are meant to be changed over time, just as our society changes over time.  This is why the United States has a Congress.  Like all legislatures, Congress' job is to examine the laws, and decide in a deliberative fashion if new laws need to be passed, if old laws need to be adjusted, and if laws need to be eliminated.

Calling for enforcement only, therefore, cuts off a debate that we as a society need to have on a constant basis.  What are the purposes of our immigration laws? Are our immigration laws functioning in a way to achieve those purposes? Are our immigration law functioning in a manner that reflects our values?  Are there unintended consequences of our immigration laws that need to be adjusted?

All too often, opponents to immigration reform simply presume that our laws are functioning the way they are supposed to function.  They treat immigration laws as if they were criminal law, despite the fact that time and time again immigration practitioners are reminded that immigration laws are civil in nature and not criminal.  Defining immigration laws as civil law gives the government the hook it needs to downplay violation of basic constitutional rights.

But equating immigration law violations with criminal law violations gives those who oppose immigration reform the luxury of dehumanizing undocumented aliens. By calling them illegals, opponents can ignore the inhumane and cruel consequences of enforcement, and claim that "those illegals" deserve it for breaking the law in the first place. 

In that way, opponents of reform can ignore how enforcement causes the separation of families. They can ignore that some aliens who qualify for immigration relief are forced to withstand detentions that are longer than their original criminal sentences. 

For tho who don't have someone they know stuck in the system, enforcement only seems like an easy solution; but it's not a compassionate solution. It's a way to ignore the problems of the current system, and hide away in their own personal cocoon, content with the illusion of security. 

By:  William J. Kovatch, Jr. 
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