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If you look at precedent (legal eagles always use precedent to prove court cases) as well as US law history, immigration has varied from wide open (give us your huddled masses), to “we can throw you out if you’re not born here,” to transgress across our border is a misdemeanor offense, to overstaying a visa is a misdemeanor offense subject to expulsion, all the way to today’s interpretation of “if you didn’t get our okay before you step foot into the country, you are a criminal.” The point here is that we’ve varied the law and interpretation of the law as a country so many times that the concept of what is legal and not legal is confused, to say the least.

Is a woman and child watching from across the Rio Grande breaking the law? Not yet on US soil, no law broken even if you could say the intent is clear. If she sees a Border Patrol agent and deliberately crosses asking for protection and refuge, is she breaking the law? Up until 2017 she was not, now she is and can get separated from her child and thrown across the border with or without her child. You read that right with or without, usually without, her child. Why do we do this? Ostensibly as a deterrent. Does that work? Possibly, but it certainly works to deter the rest of the civilized world from having any respect for our pontification as being “the land of the free.” To quote one French commentator, “Land of the Free” has come to mean “free to mistreat humans and deny human rights.” 

Part of the issue here is that our very own laws are unclear and patently unfair for human dignity. It may sound good at a press briefing to say “illegals” but the word has no meaning under the law. It may sound fair to say you are protecting innocent children from unscrupulous traffickers by taking them into custody but you discard any credibility when they are kept in filth and locked in chain-link cages. It may sound fair to have ICE round up “undocumented aliens” at their place of work, usually women, but then how many of us carry passports or proof of US citizenship every day at work? The ICE raids are always based on profiling, skin color and language being the primary triggers for supposed lawful arrest.  That’s why they always have to release most of those arrested days and weeks later when the arrested have time to show they have asylum paperwork, or social security cards, or were waiting for often-delayed court cases. In the interim, their employer fires them, their family is broke and traumatized – and for what? To look like the government is getting tough? Look here’s a promise to all ICE agents: We know you are big tough guys, you don’t have to prove it by arresting hard-working family people. If you really want to prove how tough you are, root out and arrest dangerous criminals, tackle some violent males and leave mothers with kids and families alone or at least don’t prioritize your schedule to get arrest numbers up – meaningless numbers at that.

Simple things I have observed: In the mid-80s in Mojave California before dawn a train would stop in town and the Del Monte manager would get off and have breakfast at the counter in Taco Bell next to me. Over the weeks we got to talking. His job? Take a train of 8-10 box cars down across the border into Mexico, fill the cars with workers, take the workers to the San Joaquin Valley for the farmers’ labor force. Visas? “We file permits for visas every year but the guys in DC don’t have time to get them done before the workers are needed to pick crops, so the Senator or someone calls the border guys and they wave us through.” I asked how does he take them back? “Not our job, we provide the transport, some go home, some don’t.” The moral of this story? The Federal Government is breaking the law, setting a bad example.

Another small story: President Bush (2nd one) claimed there were 12 million “illegal immigrants in the country.” Just measuring the year-on-year increase of effluent going through the waste plant in San Diego, the Mayor there once said there were at least 6 million in San Diego alone. The truth is, no one really knows how many people are here in the US who don’t have proper paperwork. There are currently over 1,000,000 legal court cases for people seeking asylum or a path to residency who weren’t born here. And there are just 350 judges, total. If you assume each court case will take 3 hours (and that’s way too short a time), that means, with an 8 hour work day and a 5 day work week, those judges will be working non-stop for four and a half years if they’re lucky, take no holidays, and have no other Federal cases to occupy their time. The system is broken. 

When a system is broken, the last thing you want to do is try overloading it. The pressure will build until the whole system will collapse. Come to think of it, as this Administration’s motto is to upend government, breaking the laws holding the nation together, maybe that’s what they are trying to do.

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