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Illegal immigrants: a closer look

Charles Rice | Tuesday, March 27, 2007

In “Operation Return to Sender,” ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) is deporting thousands of illegals, including 1,282 workers arrested in raids at Swift meatpacking plants in six states. Of 424 deported from Miami in January, 131 had criminal convictions. The raids also netted many non-criminal parents of small children.

Are the raids justified? Yes. And no.

1. The government has a duty to regain control of its borders and impose reasonable criteria for admission. “The Church in America,” said Pope John Paul II, “must [defend] against any unjust restriction to the natural right of … persons to move freely within their own nation and from one nation to another.” “Governments,” he said, must “regulate the migratory flows with full respect for the dignity of the persons and for their families’ needs, mindful of the requirements of the host societies.” Nevertheless, “[i]llegal immigration,” said John Paul II, “should be prevented [and it is] essential to combat … criminal activities which exploit illegal immigrants.”

If a steel fence is the most practical means to secure the border, it ought to be built, for the safety of Border Patrol agents as well as immigrants. Those agents, who confront the heavily armed drug gangs which, according to ICE, are “ravaging border communities in South Texas,” are persons with dignity equal to that of immigrants.

2. At least 11 million illegals are in this country. Efforts should focus on deporting those involved in gang or other criminal activities. In 2005, 26,000 were deported under the inadequate “aggravated felony” standard of federal law.

Undocumented immigrants who are otherwise law-abiding should not be deported. Many entered legally and overstayed or otherwise became illegal. Many live with minor children, including “anchor babies” who are citizens because they meet the Fourteenth Amendment’s criterion that “persons born … in the United States” are citizens.

To expel millions of otherwise law-abiding illegals would be unjust as well as an administrative nightmare. Other considerations are raised by the failure of the government to secure the borders, especially but not exclusively with respect to the Mexican border. For the past two decades, the notorious failure of the government to enforce the border has implicitly invited people to cross it illegally. Enforcement personnel have been undermanned and hampered by the failure of successive Presidents, with Congressional acquiescence or complicity, to provide them with the means to secure the border. That dereliction of duty benefits employers who seek cheap labor with the medical and other needs of the laborers shifted to the taxpayers.

Every person has a right, in the words of Pope John XXIII, “to enter a country in which he hopes to provide more fittingly for himself and his dependents.” While that right is subject to restriction, it would be unjust to deport otherwise law-abiding persons who accepted an implied invitation to enter. They are invitees. Congress ought to enable them to regularize their status as residents and perhaps as citizens.

3. We brought this problem upon ourselves through the refusal of non-hispanic whites, and to a lesser extent blacks, to reproduce themselves. The United States fertility rate is 2.07. The replacement level is 2.1 at which a population would replenish itself. We are almost there only because of the hispanics whose rate is 2.9; blacks are at 2.2 and non-Hispanic whites are 1.8. Since 1973, more than 45 million persons who would have been citizens at birth have been killed by surgical abortion, not including the uncountable numbers killed by chemical and other abortifacients. The endemic practice of contraception multiplies the shortage. As University of California Professor Franz Shurman put it, “America needs the South’s babies. … American civilization wants sex, but does not want children.”

4. One cause of this problem is neoliberalism, described by John Paul II as “a purely economic conception of man [which] considers profit and the law of the market as its only parameters, to the detriment of the dignity of and respect due to individuals and peoples.” In the 1980s, to profit from the devaluation of the Mexican peso, U.S. companies abandoned their U.S. employees and moved assembly plants to maquiladoras in Mexico just south of the border. Many of those later closed as the companies found cheaper labor in Asia. The resulting unemployment and the stagnation of the Mexican economy and government, both totally corrupt, lead many to enter the U.S. illegally. Companies in the U.S. employ them as an outsourcing in reverse. You can’t outsource a restaurant job to a foreign country. So Presidents, Congressmen and officials send the cheap labor to the employers. This is applied neoliberalism. The real “illegals” are those politicians and those for whose benefit they betray their oath to enforce the law.

5. The Church offers guidance here. Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver said it well in his comment on the ICE raids: “The Catholic Church respects the law, including immigration law. We respect those … who have the difficult job of enforcing it. We do not encourage or help anyone to break the law. … Americans have a right to solvent public institutions, secure borders and orderly regulation of immigration. … We … need … reform that will address our economic and security needs, but also regularize the status of the many decent undocumented immigrants who help our society to grow.”

Prof. Emeritus Rice is on the Law School faculty. He can be reached at (574) 633-4415 or at rice.1@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.