Friday, April 07, 2006

Making Criminals of Immigrants

This blog entry is an example of a case in which I come here with an intention to write, "X is good" and, after considering the arguments, end up convincing myself that "X is bad."

It is useful not to have preconceived notions as to how an article must turn out and, instead, to try to base one's conclusions on the weight of the arguments.

In the immigration debate, one of the arguments being used is that illegal aliens are criminals and, as such, they ought to be punished. At the very least, criminals ought not to be allowed to cut in line in front of law-abiding individuals who stayed out of the country.

The Original Argument

My original line of argument began with the fact, which I will still defend, that breaking the law does not automatically imply that one ought to be punished. Assume that a law was written that made church attendance mandatory. An atheist decides that he will not go to Church even though the law requires it. It does not automatically follow that the atheist deserves to be harmed.

The theist who argues that, "the atheist refusal to attend church justifies our throwing him in jail," would be putting the cart before the horse. The law itself has to be justified. That requires being able to prove that society has good reason to create the law to start with. If society has no reason to harm atheists who do not attend church, creating a law against attending church does not automatically create a reason to do harm.

Applying this to the issue of immigration, we can conclude that, "these people have broken the law; therefore, they should be harmed," is poor justification for doing them harm. We must first justify the law. Saying, "These people are criminals" begs the question. It assumes what must be proved -- that such a law is justified.

Now, it is a principle of logic that, if you prove a particular argument is a bad argument, you have not proved that the conclusion to that argument is false. Perhaps I can prove that the fortune teller has no good reason to believe that the plane I will be taking to Phoenix will crash. However, my proof of "no good reason" does not prove that the plane will not crash.

Similarly, the proof that the "criminal" argument is question-begging and does not provide a good reason to do harm does not imply that there is no good reason to do harm. It only proves that the good reason, if it exists, cannot be derived from the fact that these people have broken the law. It has to come from somewhere else.

Earlier, I gave reason to doubt that laws restricting the movement of people are actually good laws. After all, the absence of restrictions on moving around within the country has contributed to our strength, rather than become a weakness. I admitted that there were other relevant concerns, but a reason to doubt still exists.

Counter Considerations

This was my original argument. However, I always begin my argument by trying to create the best argument that I can for the side I will be arguing against. I owe it to them not to create any straw man. Sometimes, in creating this best argument, I create an argument I cannot refute.

In this case, the argument that I wrote for the opposite position goes like this:

If we reward those who have broken the law, then we set the stage for encouraging others in the future to break the same law. There will be people in Mexico and other countries who will see our actions and reason, "I know that they have made it illegal to immigrate to America. However, in the past, those who broke the law got to become citizens. At the same time, those who stayed out of America -- the more law-abiding people -- gave up this opportunity. Since America is rewarding those who break the law, and leaving those who obey the law with nothing, we should break the law, in the hopes of becoming citizens next time."

Sending out the word that "successfully entering the United States means citizenship the next time they consider immigration reform," could very well encourage an even larger number of people to cross the border, even further stressing our immigration control resources even more than they are already strained.

If we are going to hire people to prevent immigration into this country, it seems only fair that we will also support them in doing their job. The U.S. Government cannot honestly be said to be supporting our immigration officials if it is offering rewards in the form of potential citizenship for those who break through their defenses. It makes sense to argue that we will do a better job of discouraging people from breaking a law if we do not entice people with the possibility of rewarding those who succeed.


I am well aware of the level of disruption caused by shipping illegal aliens back out of the country. I am also aware that the threat of deportation makes illegal aliens vulnerable to all sorts of abuse and exploitation by individuals who merely have to say, “Do you the people at Immigration to find out that you are in this country?” I am well aware of the fact that some of these illegal aliens now have children who are U.S. Citizens in virtue of being born here and that it does harm to the children to forcibly send their parents away.

I am well aware of the fact that there are additional considerations.

Yet, one of these considerations – a consideration that cannot be ignored even if it should end up being outweighed – is that it is stupid to make it illegal for people to do something while, at the same time, rewarding those who succeed in doing it. That type of policy makes no sense.


Dennis R. Hidalgo said...

Probably it is time then to think about us more as belonging to a global community with societal obligations and reciprocal contracts to every human being rather than thinking in national terms and nationalistic limitations. In this way we will not think of national borders to protect, but people around the world to interchange, help and share with. There is no solution to the modern immigration problem either here in the U.S. or in Europe if we do not take a global perspective. Otherwise, the result will be an ever increasing isolation and paranoia, which in the end will result in more inequality and, thus, growing violence.

Alonzo Fyfe said...


Ultimately, I think that your point is correct. A person is a person regardless of where on the planet he is born. Any ideology that says that only those born in a certain geographic area are 'persons', and those born in a different geographic area are mere 'things' to be disposed of as those who are 'persons' sees fit, is morally bankrupt.

Anonymous said...

Like hidalgo said, but with the additional self-fulfilling actions in the current Mexico/US border situation. The Mexicans are coming accross the border to seek the opportunities that this nation, the US, has to offer. At the same time, they are demanding to bring their culture with them, not learn our language, take advantage of the social services paid for by the citizens of the US, and, in general, attempting to make the US (or at least Southern California) a part of Mexico. When Southern California becomes part of Mexico, where will they go??? Now, if we address the problem of a "global community," it seems like BOTH SIDES would want to make the differences less drastic, ie, raise the standards of Mexico some and lower the standards of US some to meet somewhere in the middle. The real situation, however, is that BOTH SIDES are taking advantage of the situation AS-IS: the US businesses are exploiting the Mexicans for lower wages and abusing the tax-payers for the social services the un-documented are using while Mexico is raking in billions of dollars that the un-documented workers are sending their families in Mexico (their second largest income source). And most of that income in Mexico eventually winds up in the hands of the rich families who run Mexico. Yes, nationalism has its curses, but is the world ready for a true global community?