Last week Jason Hall posted a column at the Catholic Stand that somewhat snarkily takes on the question of why illegal immigrants don’t just come here legally. Jason rightfully points out that it’s not exactly a piece of cake to legally immigrate to the United States. The process is terribly cumbersome, and it takes years for most people to finally gain legal residence, and that’s the case for people who have more connections and resources than the typical migrant worker.
That being the case, while Hall’s column does a good job at highlighting the inefficiencies of the immigration system, what it does not do is provide justification for the comprehensive immigration reform proposal being discussed in the Senate. As I said in the comments to his post, the question of whether the current process of legal immigration is cumbersome is not germane to the question of what to do with those individuals who have nonetheless entered the country illegally.
Now some have addressed this by stating that the current system is unjust, and therefore those who have entered the country illegally should not be punished for breaking an unjust law. I should emphasize right up front that Hall himself does not state this, at least in the column, but I have heard other immigration reform supporters make this claim. There are a couple of problems with this argument.
First of all, as admittedly burdensome as the immigration process is, that alone does not make the system unjust. Yes, it’s a bureaucratic mess, but unjust? I am not quite sure that an excess of red tape is an injustice that justifies blatant disregard for American laws and the violation of our sovereign border.
Furthermore, if our system were unjust, those who have immigrated illegally are in fact themselves guilty of committing an injustice, and any legislation that effectively rewarded their behavior would be an even graver injustice. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people have begun the process of legally immigrating. The current proposal would effectively grant legal status to millions of people who cut in line, and would do so with minimal punishment. So now some ten million people would have been granted legal privileges ahead of those who respected the laws of this country. Moreover, the already over-loaded immigration bureaucracy would undoubtedly be stretched to even greater degrees in the process of legalizing or normalizing the statuses of those here illegally. I have a hard time believing that the overall immigration process would be smoothed out by such a dramatic change.
There are no easy solutions to this mess, and there are legitimate arguments to be made on behalf of some kind of comprehensive immigration reform plan. Of course it’s hard to avoid the feeling that we’re being sold a bill of goods by disappointingly dishonest politicians. But if we’re going to lament having a broken system, perhaps it’s time to acknowledge that those we are trying to help played a large part in breaking it in the first place.