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A response to “The real criminals”

| Friday, February 23, 2018

This morning, I read a letter to the editor titled, “The real criminals.” It is inflammatory in its tone and far-reaching in its conclusions. It was, no doubt, intended to provoke a response. I hope to offer a reasonable one.

The author of this letter and I can probably agree on this: Christian guidance and American history tell us that supporting immigration to this country is good. That our ability (or, at least, our aspiration) to support and sustain a just immigration system is good. It is good because there are many who wish to build a better future for their children, and they see our country, despite all its shortcomings, as the best place to do so. It is good because a system which will help those people become citizens will allow them to enjoy the benefits of citizenship — things like legal protection from abusive working environments and their children’s education.

Because of how far our current system is from this aspiration, the outrage expressed in the letter is understandable.

What is not understandable is the brutal demonization of the opposing side, the endorsement of a false choice between unrestricted borders and completely closed ones and the inaccurate representation of moral responsibility.

Here is the moral spectrum for which the letter fails to account.

First, we cannot provide what we cannot provide. I heard a story today about a Catholic Worker house that tried to develop a weather amnesty program to shelter the homeless from below-freezing temperatures. This is surely a good intention. But the house, with limited volunteers and space, was unable to sustain a safe and effective environment. It had to end the program. Likewise, we simply are unable to support a system of unrestricted immigration while at the same time protecting all those people who enter illegally from exploitation and crime. We can’t want to help meritorious immigrants and also push for completely unrestricted immigration.

We must strike a balance. Thinking in the terms presented in the letter pushes us away from any balance and discredits any reasonable approach.

The letter does not entertain the possibility that the high costs of illegal immigration could be the fault of any party but the United States government. In reality, there are a couple other culpable parties involved. While it is exceedingly difficult to enter our country legally, people who choose to enter the country without documentation and through illicit networks take on tremendous risk. They bear some responsibility for the costs of their decision. But what are the circumstances that led to their flight, and how are they treated while crossing the border? This is where the primary responsibility for the high costs of illegal immigration lies — with the governments and cartels. The Mexican government, for example, allows rampant corruption and accepts violent cartel activity across the country. It’s no wonder people want to leave. Not providing for the safety of citizens is a governmental failure of the highest order.

This failure ensures that the drug cartels are the most sinister threat — a point the letter actually develops well. The cartel exploits and brutalizes people wanting to cross the border. The letter falls short when it attributes responsibility for the inhumane treatment of immigrants by the cartels to a U.S. policy of increased border security. Such responsibility would suggest that the degree of criminal activity in spite of law necessitates a change in the law to accommodate the crimes. This notion is false. We want to protect ourselves, to the extent that we can, from the cartel violence that plays a crucial role in illegal immigration. The difficult part is balancing our good desire to help innocents with our duty to protect our nation against cartel violence. The solution, however, is not to loosen border security to accommodate the cartels. We wouldn’t be helping our people or the innocents. We wouldn’t be upholding human dignity.

To simply blame ourselves and change our laws based on the immoral actions of others is foolish. To put that blame so harshly and directly on those who hold political beliefs contrary to our own is even more foolish.

I agree that we must look seriously at our own policy shortcomings in immigration. We should likely change some laws. But we must not do so in light of the standards the cartels and corrupt governments set. Criminal activity cannot dictate the laws we set. We must instead look to change laws and policies with an accurate view of our own principles, of our noble aspiration to a just immigration system. We must ask ourselves what the best way to uphold human dignity is — an open border, a closed border or something more secure, more sustainable and more just?

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

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About Nicholas Marr