The writer, of Omaha, is a lawyer.
Immigration law reform should be based on respect. Show respect for our borders. Show respect for the law. Show respect for people.
Respect for borders. Unauthorized entry is at a record low number. The time for implementing a strong border security plan is ripe.
Carl Sandberg once said, “Love your neighbor as yourself; but don't take down the fence.” That may be good advice.
Some people advocate a triple-layered San Diego-type fence; others claim the diverse terrain requires a mixture of fencing infrastructure and technology sensors and unmanned, non-military aircraft. The efficacy of these alternatives can be sample tested and the results measured. America should implement the tested alternative that works.
Regardless, the country may be wise not to move ahead until a validated action plan on border control is firm and irreversible.
Respect the law. The rule of law is sacrosanct in America. This view is shared by people of all races, ethnicities and political parties. No right-minded person would sanction lawlessness as our country's presumptive immigration policy. Ironically, even those who enter this country unauthorized know the importance of upholding American laws. Or the country they may have risked their lives to reach would not be America at all.
A rule of law can be created by statute or the Supreme Court. It can be criminal or civil. A decision not to enforce a criminal law is generally referred to as amnesty. This occurred, for example, when those avoiding the draft of the Vietnam War were allowed to re-enter the United States without criminal prosecution.
A civil violation is different. It can occur, for example, when a home builder mistakenly has a vent millimeters closer to a floor board than current code allows when constructing a house. If there is no danger, a city government may decide not to require the builder to remove walls or floorboards to correct it. This is not truly amnesty.
Last year the Supreme Court in Arizona v. U.S. reaffirmed “it is not a crime for a removable alien to remain in the United States,” but instead it is a “civil” matter.
Americans are right not to want to grant amnesty for criminal conduct. Typical immigration offenses do not fit into this category. People mean well but amnesty is most often not the right word. (And we all want to avoid living by the code of Humpty Dumpty, who famously said in “Alice in Wonderland,” “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”)
Sometimes a law needs to be changed. That happened with banking laws years ago. It went something like this. A struggling bank in a small town was purchased by a financially stronger bank from outside the area. The new bank began hiring local people and became active in civic affairs. Another bank in town was not so enthused and discovered the new bank's charter was technically not permitted.
The legal result — deportation of the new bank — was viewed by the community as ill-advised. Branch banking was born.
Immigration law may need a similar change.
Respect for people. A law change does not mean there are no consequences. Many Americans believe unauthorized immigration should have legal consequences. That view deserves respect. Most people, however, would excuse children who came to this country in obedience of their parents' demand.
There are 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the United States. The cost of deportation is estimated at $285 billion. A recent World-Herald poll indicates most Americans no longer prefer deportation as a remedy and presumably would not want to use or increase taxes to pay for extradition. So what can the country do?
A panel of prosecutors could identify an alternative consequence to deportation. Even people who have a different definition of amnesty would have to agree most prosecutors abhor any form of amnesty and would want meaningful punishment for offenders. Unauthorized immigrants will appreciate that a showing of public disapprobation for their offense is necessary.
Once an offender pays society's dues, however, he or she would have earned a right to a fresh start and our respect.
Immigration reform has challenges but it should be guided by respect. If so, it will be a political boundary we should be able to easily cross.