Illegal immigration

In this article, the Texas Attorney General accuses a non-profit organization of “horrific” human smuggling operations. If they are truly engaged in human trafficking they must be stopped. But if they are merely providing humanitarian aid to immigrants who are already here, and were not involved in bringing them into the country, then it’s not human trafficking at all.

However, a government must enforce it’s laws. In a federation, the federal government enacts the laws and enforces them. States must also comply with those laws and cooperate with their enforcement. Being alive isn’t a crime, but if entering a country without permission is illegal (and this is the case in most countries) the government is reasonably expected to attempt to find all such illegal immigrants and handle each one accordingly. Some need to get a temporary permission to visit, some need asylum, some need a path to naturalization, some need to be arrested, and some need to be deported.

If there are places where illegal immigrants are known to be, including non-profits providing humanitarian aid, the government has a duty to look there.

It’s important to keep in mind that if the consequences for being found are severe, then we actually make it easier for human trafficking to take place because the migrants who are fearful are more easily controlled and abused by the human traffickers.

There needs to be a balance between enforcing the law and having control of the border and and ensuring that human rights are protected — all human rights, including those of illegal immigrants.

Here is a proposal for the right balance:

The law must be enforced, without exception, for all people who are in the country, whether legally or not, whether poor or rich, powerless or powerful. It is up to the legislature to enact laws that take various circumstances into consideration when deciding what is legal or not and what are the consequences. If a country has an immigration problem, the first thing to look at and possibly fix is the law.

States with laws that thwart immigration control, like California making it illegal for landlords to ask about an applicant’s residency status, are clearly in the wrong and need to be fixed. It needs to be the other way — the law must require landlords and hospitals to check the residency status and report on any residents who don’t have their citizenship or immigration documents. Report — not deny housing to them. Denying housing to them would violate their right to equal opportunity, if equal opportunity protection includes nationality, especially since the landlord is not a legal authority to make the determination of whether they are here illegally. It would then be the government’s duty to follow up and make a determination of what to do.

If a person has entered illegally but is otherwise following the law, working a job, paying rent, and paying taxes, it seems they are being productive members of society and what they need is more help integrating and not deportation. But it is up to the legislature to enact laws that create a path for good people who entered illegally to become lawful residents and possibly citizens. If this path is possible, then it’s harder for human traffickers to instill fear in and control their victims.

Some people who are opposed to any immigration — legal or not — are afraid of immigrants “taking” jobs of residents, meaning that they’ll accept lower wages or poor working conditions and that makes it harder for natives to find work. However, minimum wage and other worker protection laws prevent this by creating a “floor”, minimum acceptable conditions, so that the only factor remaining is supply and demand and individual qualifications. Wherever there are people, there will always be jobs to do. Having more immigrants can actually create jobs for housing them, clothing them, feeding them, teaching them, transporting them, entertaining them, and so on. The fear of having less jobs available because of more people being around is a legitimate fear because those people are also competing for jobs, but it’s something that can be managed and the outcome might actually be more prosperity doe everyone. Just because a person is afraid of a particular outcome doesn’t mean that’s what is going to happen.

The other common opposition to immigrants is the fear that crime will increase with their presence. However, this is more likely to happen when the laws are oppressive, when human traffickers can use fear to control their victims, because they can demand that their victims do crimes for them or else be hurt or murdered with no justice, or exposed and deported. And also desperate immigrants might commit crimes trying to avoid those outcomes. But none of that applies to a person who entered illegally and is following the laws, working a job, and renting an apartment. Putting them in the same category is not only an injustice, it also distracts from and obscures the real problems.

People who smuggle and sell illegal weapons, drugs, or other humans are violating the law and must be arrested and tried, whether they are illegal immigrants or not. If they are caught and are found to have entered illegally, there must be additional consequences both to handle that situation — eventually they need to be deported, possibly after their prison sentence — and also to deter others from doing the same thing.

One possible deterrent is that the punishment for any violent crime is more severe for illegal immigrants, like punishment for any traffic violation or resulting damages and injuries should be more severe if the driver was intoxicated.

However, punishment for minor violations of law should not be more severe, because severe punishments for small things contribute to oppression and are therefore counterproductive. Consequences for minor violations — where there is no victim or where restitution is possible — should be the same for everyone.

A tourist who has overstayed their permission but otherwise has not violated the law should not be treated the same as a drug dealer who has entered illegally. However, the law enacted by the legislature must create these guidelines for law enforcement. It should not be up to each state to enforce it differently according to their political agenda.

We all benefit when good people, productive people join the society. We need our immigration laws to help us identify those people and put them on a path to becoming legal residents while handling any criminals decisively to get them off the streets and then deported.

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