By Dennis Sanders
While I have supported immigration reform and have long argued that the GOP’s anti-immigrant stance will hurt them electorally in the long run, I have always believed that those in this country without going through the proper channels have to respect the rule of law and try to become citizens.
I am not for trying to round up all illegal aliens and send them back to their countries of origin. But I do think we have immigration laws for a reason, and even as broken as they are, they need to be respected. This was the reason I supported the immgration policy supported by President Bush that created a path to citizenship, but also made those in the country illegally have to pay a fine. The proposed law both welcomed new immigrants and also upheld the law.
My belief in upholding the rule of law comes from another belief: that to be an American is not simply about paying taxes to the government, but it is about learning about the history (good and bad) of this nation, and learning the ways and customs of the United States. (I’m probably doing a bad job of explaining this, but think of it as orientation class.)
So reading Tim Lee’s takedown of those who talk about respecting the law is a bit troubling to me. (Lee talks more on the “rule of law” argument at his own blog.) I do think the case of Eric Balderas is a sad one, and I don’t think he should be blamed for something his parents did. It’s why I think we need to have immigration reform to allow for someone like Eric to become a citizen without having to leave the only home he knows.
That said, I think Lee tends to paint with too broad a brush those who want the rule of law upheld. He notes:
Balderas’s real crime is neither sneaking across the border 15 years ago nor failing to fill out the right paperwork. Rather, his crime is belonging to a nationality that American policy makers have decided is over-represented in this country. And there’s a significant constituency for this policy among American voters, some of whom simply believe that there are too many foreigners here. But this viewpoint has little to do with the rule of law. The rule of law doesn’t demand that we punish children for the crimes of their parents, or that we punish people for crimes they committed decades ago. And if you demand stricter enforcement of the existing laws while vociferously opposing all proposals to expand the legal channels for coming to this country, then I hope you’ll forgive me if I conclude that you don’t actually care about people like Eric Balderas.
Now, I get what Lee is trying to say. If you are talking about rule of law, but in the same breath calling any proposal to make reform immigration “amnesty” then yes, one has to question if what bothers them is the color of their skin and maybe their accent. But Lee doesn’t make that clear until the last paragraph and seems to portray anyone that does think the rule of law matters as some kind of narrow-minded redneck. I am pro-immigrant and cases like Eric’s remind us why we need reform. And we need reform to reform our laws. But we have laws for a reason. As Travis Johnson noted, we have immigration laws to help protect us as a nation from outside threats.
Immigrants who came to the states came here illegally and in violation of the law. That’s not a good thing. The answer to this is to reform the law and also find ways to help the immigrants come out of the shadows, own up to their violations (by paying a fine) and them find ways to legally intergrate them into American society.
As President Ford once said, we are a nation of laws and not men. The law should not be an instrument of exclusion as some on the right want it to be, but neither should it be ignored.
Dennis Sanders is a pastor living in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He has worked on centrist Republican issues for years, including stints as President of the Minnesota chapter of Log Cabin Republicans (a gay/lesbian advocacy group) and Republicans for Environmental Protection. Dennis blogs at NeoMugwump and Republicans United he happily lives with his partner Daniel and serves two cats, Morris and Felix