Undocumented immigrants are breaking the law by remaining in the U.S. So, many conservatives ask, what is wrong with enforcing the law by removing them?
I've thought a lot about this lately, and here's what I've come up with.
As a physician, I have a job that permits me to see into people's private lives. I see people who do drugs, who cheat on their wives, who commit fraud of various kinds. Who beat their wives or abandon their children. Who abuse or horribly neglect their elderly parents.
All of them are citizens. Citizens who daily break the law. And none of them are in jail.
If you ask me who has done more wrong, an alcoholic who continues to drive drunk or an illegal immigrant who cuts grass so his family can eat, there is no comparison.
Illegal immigration may be a crime, but it is just one of many. It needn't be singled out as uniquely bad, because it isn't. The idea that we should marshal para-military assets to combat a crime that hasn't been proven to cause serious harm to our society seems excessive at least, totalitarian at worst.
Where is the proof that undocumented immigrants harm our economy? They mostly take jobs no citizens want. They replace roofs, wash dishes, cook fast food, clean houses, babysit children. They aren't CEOs, or stock brokers, or welders, or certified electricians. In fact, by doing work no citizen wants to do, they add to our GDP by producing tangible products that create jobs for Americans. When an illegal helps build a house, an American can sell it. When an illegal picks peaches, a farmer sells the produce. When an illegal mops a floor, an American gets a job making, shipping, and selling cleaning chemicals.
An economy is complicated. One person chops down a tree. Another mills the wood. Another makes furniture from it. Yet another delivers the furniture to a store. Someone else sells it, and someone else delivers a chair to your house. You buy insurance on your house to protect the chair from loss in a fire. The chain goes on and on. So what if the lumberjack is an illegal? All the other people in the chain could be Americans. So the production of one illegal leads to jobs for dozens of other people.
That is how an economy really works. It isn't millions of people in a pit wrestling each other for a piece of meat. It is millions of people working together, each benefitting the other. Illegals sometimes drain resources from that system, but they are also productive, and the products they make add to the process. In fact, the products illegal immigrants make are added directly to the calculation of the GDP. To misunderstand this is to overlook the value illegal workers add to our economy, and the harm that would arise if they were kicked out of the country.
How serious a crime is it to cross a border in search of a job? Isn't there is a difference between stealing bread so your children can eat and stealing someone's retirement savings? Illegal immigrants don't scam you out of your life savings. Good old true-blue Americans do that, every single day. People who insist on throwing all the illegals out pretend such moral distinctions don't exist. They pretend that a person who crosses the U.S. border looking for work because his family is hungry is in the same moral status as a professional swindler.
This is obviously not true. Most of the people who come illegally into the United States are looking for work out of personal necessity. They are not here to steal from Americans. They are here because they rather enjoy eating and are hoping to continue the practice of eating in the future. And they wouldn't mind if their children could have a chance to eat as well.
To come down on such people as if they are spouse abusers or drug dealers or drunk drivers is ridiculous. They are nothing of the sort, and as long as they follow all other laws and are otherwise upstanding members of society, there is no reason they should not be treated with the same dignity our system accords to citizens who disobey the law in other ways.
Mercy is an important aspect of the law. If we were prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law for every illegal act we ever committed, we would all be serving jail time. If drivers got a ticket every single time their speed drifted up to 67 mph, every single driver would be bankrupt from recurring tickets, and the roads would be empty.
Laws have to be enforced intelligently, not blindly. The purpose of law is to maintain social order, but the dirty little secret of society is that good citizens break the law from time to time, and social order is not disrupted. A wise government knows this, and often turns a blind eye to "crimes" that do not harm society deeply, like accidentally drifting above the speed limit or the occasional experiment with illegal drugs, and instead focuses on those that clearly disrupt order, like intentionally running red lights or dealing illegal drugs.
Blind enforcement of the law is tyranny. The goal of government isn't to throw every single transgressor into prison. It is to correct people who drift outside of the lines and get them back on track. And to be tolerant of people who are breaking the law for understandable reasons, and who are not causing significant harm when they do.
I don't think undocumented immigrants are causing nearly the harm some politicians want us to think they do. Yes, they are breaking the law, technically, but many of them bring more value to the economy than they take away, and most of them have good reasons for doing what they are doing. We need to let mercy and understanding take its place in governing, as it is supposed to.