Commentary Magazine


Topic: border surge

Compassion and the Rule of Law

The surge of illegal aliens–and in particular unaccompanied minors from Central America–across the border in Texas has started a debate in which more than immigration reform seems to be stake. While most conservatives are decrying the situation as the result of President Obama’s mistakes, some liberals are focusing on what they believe is the lack of compassion for the children that is being forgotten amid the politics. But as the plight of these desperate kids becomes publicized, Americans are being asked to make a choice between their charitable instincts and the rule of law.

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The surge of illegal aliens–and in particular unaccompanied minors from Central America–across the border in Texas has started a debate in which more than immigration reform seems to be stake. While most conservatives are decrying the situation as the result of President Obama’s mistakes, some liberals are focusing on what they believe is the lack of compassion for the children that is being forgotten amid the politics. But as the plight of these desperate kids becomes publicized, Americans are being asked to make a choice between their charitable instincts and the rule of law.

That’s the conceit of a good deal of the coverage of the reaction to the border surge in which demonstrations by Americans angry about the arrival of busloads of illegals are seen as proof of the intolerance and anger at the heart of resistance to immigration reform. The deplorable condition of many of these children and the hardships and violence they faced on their way to the United States all demand the sympathy of any decent person. Once in this country, they deserve humanitarian aid. Republicans who have expressed reluctance to allocate funds to deal with the crisis may be right not to trust President Obama to use the $3.7 billion he has requested wisely. But so long as they are on American soil, there can be no question that the government and concerned citizens must do whatever is needed to see that they are housed, fed, and given the medical care they need.

But that isn’t what’s at stake in this debate. Nobody is saying that the kids shouldn’t be cared for. But the notion, pushed by the United Nations and a growing volume of liberal commentators, is that we must treat these illegals as refugees and let them stay in America rather than being sent back home.

The argument for this proposition rests principally on the idea that the kids are in genuine danger from violence in their own countries. Looked at from that point of view, sending them back would be a death sentence. Thus, granting them asylum is being represented as not merely ethical but our obligation as civilized people.

But the problem with this reasoning is that if this position is allowed to stand, Central America and indeed, much of the rest of the world, might well empty out as immigrants seeking a better life pour into the United States.

It may well be that some of the unaccompanied minors who have come here recently in their tens of thousands would be in danger back home. But the laws regarding refugees were intended to provide a haven to those with a genuine fear of persecution because of their politics, ethnicity, or religious beliefs, not merely those who had the bad luck to live in a country where the rule of law has broken down. Violence is nothing new in Central American countries and even if it has surged lately, declaring that anyone who had fled these nations has a right to stay in the U.S. would render all existing immigration law and even the concept of borders meaningless.

Such compassion is, after all, relative. Those declaring that the United States must absorb children sent streaming over our borders by parents who hope they will be allowed to stay are not, after all, also advocating that war refugees from Syria, Iraq, or Afghanistan or conflicts in dozens of other countries also be taken in with no questions asked. The point of such demands is not merely humanitarian but to underscore demands that those already in the country illegally be allowed a path to legalization if not citizenship.

I have always been sympathetic to such arguments since it seems to me that 11 million people cannot be deported and therefore amnesty is what we’re experiencing now. But the border surge and the subsequent demands to grant tens of thousands of illegal aliens who are minors asylum demonstrates the danger of signaling that illegals will not be deported.

Granting refugee status to the current group of unaccompanied minors will herald the start of future surges that no amount of border patrol or improved security will be able to halt.

If these children deserve compassion, and they do, then by all means the U.S. should extend it to them. If it means more aid to the countries where they must be repatriated or the creation of centers in those countries where they can be protected against predators and poverty, then so be it. But if they are allowed to stay we might as well kiss goodbye any hope of America being able to police its borders or to have a say in who comes or goes.

As the people of many Central American nations have learned to their sorrow, the collapse of the rule of law means is the beginning of the rule of predators and the end of compassion. If we are to avoid the same fate and to be of any use to those who understandably wish to come here–whether legally or illegally–we must not allow a false argument for compassion to undermine our rule of law.

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Arizona Gov Declares Border Surge Victory

Most critics of the bipartisan immigration reform bill being debated in the Senate were nonplussed by the latest compromise offered by the gang of eight. The so-called “border surge” proposed by Senators Bob Corker and John Hoeven was panned by many conservative activists, writers and politicians who seemed to be looking for excuses to dismiss the massive commitment to border security as somehow not enough or not a credible plan to deal with the problem of illegal immigration. But one of the main players in the ongoing efforts by conservatives to force the federal government to act to curb illegal immigration has endorsed the measure. Yesterday on Fox News, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer endorsed the gang’s bill and declared it “a victory for Arizona.”

Brewer has been in the cross hairs of liberals like President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder for her state’s attempt to cope with the flood of illegals that federal apathy had created. Indeed, the state bill she signed into law and then defended in the federal courts that sought to allow law enforcement officers to ask about a crime suspect’s immigration status made her public enemy No. 1 for the left. But while some on the right have been falling over themselves to prove to the GOP grass roots that they won’t agree to any reform of our immigration laws that allows a path to citizenship, Brewer made it clear that the bipartisan measures satisfied her well known objections to existing federal policy on illegals. It remains to be seen how much influence Brewer’s decision will have on Congress, but this is a clear blow to the campaign being waged on the right to pressure Republicans to block the immigration bill.

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Most critics of the bipartisan immigration reform bill being debated in the Senate were nonplussed by the latest compromise offered by the gang of eight. The so-called “border surge” proposed by Senators Bob Corker and John Hoeven was panned by many conservative activists, writers and politicians who seemed to be looking for excuses to dismiss the massive commitment to border security as somehow not enough or not a credible plan to deal with the problem of illegal immigration. But one of the main players in the ongoing efforts by conservatives to force the federal government to act to curb illegal immigration has endorsed the measure. Yesterday on Fox News, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer endorsed the gang’s bill and declared it “a victory for Arizona.”

Brewer has been in the cross hairs of liberals like President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder for her state’s attempt to cope with the flood of illegals that federal apathy had created. Indeed, the state bill she signed into law and then defended in the federal courts that sought to allow law enforcement officers to ask about a crime suspect’s immigration status made her public enemy No. 1 for the left. But while some on the right have been falling over themselves to prove to the GOP grass roots that they won’t agree to any reform of our immigration laws that allows a path to citizenship, Brewer made it clear that the bipartisan measures satisfied her well known objections to existing federal policy on illegals. It remains to be seen how much influence Brewer’s decision will have on Congress, but this is a clear blow to the campaign being waged on the right to pressure Republicans to block the immigration bill.

Though many on the right have complained, with some justification, that the predictions of doom for the GOP if they oppose immigration reform are overstated and an effort to “intimidate” them, the real intimidation is the attempt by conservatives to buffalo House Republicans into thinking they will be defeated in primaries by the minority of the party that opposes any immigration measure, no matter how reasonable or how much it prioritizes border security.

Conservatives have come up with a variety of reasons to oppose the reform bill in the past few days. Some have put forward procedural arguments, claiming the bill is too complicated or too lengthy. That’s a fair point, though its advocates should be honest enough to admit it is more pretext than cause as Republicans never scrupled to support long, complicated bills if they approved of their purpose. But conscious of the fact that the key issue for most Americans on immigration has been border security, their most effective line of argument has been the claim that the Corker-Hoeven Amendment is either a sham or won’t actually do the job its proponents claim it can do. But Brewer, who has been on the front lines of the border battle more than any other Republican politician in recent years, gives the lie to this assertion.

Brewer has said that Congress should look carefully at the bill and try to make it better if possible. But the bottom line for her is that Congress finally seems on the brink of passing a measure that heeds the cries for help that Arizonans have made for years. It’s easy for those who aren’t dealing with the problems incurred by the porous border to be skeptical about doubling the number of border patrol personnel or finishing 700 more miles of fence, among other measures in the bill. But Brewer knows that this will make a tangible difference for a state that has borne the brunt of the federal government’s indifference and incompetence. If Jan Brewer, of all people, considers this bill a victory for those who have been pushing for the United States to assert its sovereignty over the border with Mexico, how can others credibly complain that it does nothing to alleviate the concerns of critics of the status quo?

For years, conservatives have said any plan to address immigration reform must include a serious scheme to bolster border security. The Corker-Hoeven Amendment provides just that. While the eventual fate of the bill is still very much in doubt, Brewer’s endorsement puts its opponents on notice that no one is going to buy their claims that the reason they are trying to torpedo it has anything to do with protecting America’s borders.

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