Monday, May 31, 2010


Somewhere beneath the oil oozing and floating in the Gulf of Mexico and the flotilla arrested in the eastern Mediterranean, there still lie combustible tensions over the new law in Arizona aimed at curtailing illegal immigration. It's a fascinating situation: politically, because it insists that the demagogues speak clearly on the issue, legally because it confers new life on the issue, once presumed dead, of the rights of states vis-a-vis the Federal government. Although some wish to keep the issue unresolved because they believe that they can capitalize on political tension, most, I think, wish to reach a fair solution. Herewith, my own.

We need, in the spirit of Burke, to recognize how we have arrived at the condition in which we now find ourselves. The sad truth is that for many years we have refused to police our border. Given that vast numbers of Mexicans and others desired to cross that border, our lack of enforcement was tantamount to an invitation to come into our country. And so the people here illegally are here essentially at our invitation, certainly with our connivance. When they crossed the border, we did not hinder them; when they sought jobs, we allowed it; when they established businesses, bought SUVs, mobile homes, and houses, we did not object. When they had children, those children became American citizens, and when they enrolled their children in the schools, their families became ever more firmly entrenched among our own. We did nothing to stop these newcomers from settling among us. For that reason, we should recognize that their permanent settlement here is with our leave, and it would be cruel--and hardly conservative--now to insist, as some do, that they broke the law and so must go. Yes, they broke the law but in a technical sense, in the sense that we break the law when we disregard the detailed rules of the road that festoon the driver's handbook of every state in America. Most of us violate many of those laws largely because the police refuse to enforce them.

However, letting someone live in the United States is a very different thing from promising that person citizenship: no one who has entered the United States illegally has done so thinking that he has earned the right to citizenship. Hence, while we owe it to our illegal residents to allow them to stay, we owe them nothing in the way of citizenship. Therefore, my specific proposal is this:

1. Seal the border NOW. Simply because we have allowed a massive flow across our southern border in the past does not mean that we are obliged to continue doing so. Despite what the Catholic bishops say, there is no moral obligation to keep the border open. Once the border is sealed, we have every right to deport anyone who manages to cross after that point, since our implicit invitation has been withdrawn.
2. Allow those to stay permanently who came when we did nothing to prevent their crossing. They have begun new lives here, largely on the unstated promise that they could live among us unmolested.
3. Under no circumstances grant these resident aliens citizenship. Citizenship was never part of our tacit bargain, only the prmise of peaceful settlement in a place more stable and more full of promise than the lands they came from. If they choose to recross the border and then apply for the lottery, they should be welcome to do so, like any resident of Japan, Mongloia, the Ukraine, Sweden, or Lesotho.
4. Immediately deport any resident alien found guilty of a felony and seriously prosecute those arrested on suspicion of committing a felony.

Following these guidelines would recognize the situation that we have created and would therefore prevent undue dislocation by revoking a tacit promise that we have made. It would also prevent the problem of a large group of resident non-citizens growing ever larger. Finally, it would have the very great benefit of depriving the demagogues of yet another issue that inflames passions and greatly troubles political discourse.

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