Immigration: Amnesty and the Rule of Law
Religion & Liberty Online

Immigration: Amnesty and the Rule of Law

It is a moral right of man to work. Pursuing a vocation not only allows an individual to provide for himself or his family, it also brings human dignity to the individual. Each person was created with unique talents, and the provision of an environment in which he can use those gifts is paramount. As C. Neal Johnson, business professor at Hope International University and proponent of “Business as Mission,” says,

“God is an incredibly creative individual, and He said that I’m making men and women in my own image. He made us to be creative individuals … He gave a number of things to humanity and to mankind and said, ‘Look, this is who I want you to be. This is who I’ve made you to be. I want you to take dominion. I want you to exercise your creative gifts.’”

It follows that if man has a moral right to work, he must also have the right to migrate in order to find those environments most conducive to his ability to work. Pope John XXIII echoed this in his famous encyclical Pacem in Terris, writing,

And among man’s personal rights we must include his right to enter a country in which he hopes to be able to provide more fittingly for himself and his dependents. It is therefore the duty of State officials to accept such immigrants and—so far as the good of their own community, rightly understood, permits—to further the aims of those who may wish to become members of a new society.

Therefore, a system of immigration policies that promotes man’s moral right to immigrate into the nation in order to find work is of great importance. Ever since the days when waves of immigrants of many different nationalities would reach New York, the immigration system in the United States has been deteriorating. The backlog of immigrants waiting for green cards has topped four million, as most wait years, and even decades before they can legally enter the U.S. In desperation, many cross the border illegally and there are now nearly 11 million “undocumented workers” currently in the country. This quandary has caused many citizens and policymakers in the U.S. to demand immigration reform.

While immigration is a natural right of man, the rule of law must govern the immigration process. What does the rule of law look like? Amongst the enumerated duties of the federal government in the Constitution is the duty to secure the national border. Thus background checks are done in order to ensure immigrants aren’t criminals or terrorists. Also, it must be proven that immigrants will utilize their right to migrate by working and that they won’t become a burden to other citizens. This is why it is easier for immigrants with higher education levels to obtain green cards. Overall, those who follow the law must be rewarded, and those who break it must abide the consequences. Pope John Paul II once said, “When freedom does not have a purpose, when it does not wish to know anything about the rule of law engraved in the hearts of men and women, when it does not listen to the voice of conscience, it turns against humanity and society.” Immigration reform has attempted to expedite the process in order to deal with the backlog of immigrants. Reformers hope that speeding up the immigration process and making it easier will also incentivize more people to immigrate legally. Nonetheless, immigration reform must focus on expediting the process while maintaining the rule of law.

The “gang of eight” – a bipartisan committee of eight senators — saw their immigration bill pass with a large majority in the Senate on July 27th, but they will now have to wait as the Republican-controlled House crafts their own version of the bill. The Senate bill would grant amnesty to the nearly 11 million undocumented workers while seeking to provide new pathways to citizenship. Many Republicans in both the Senate and the House oppose the Senate bill on the grounds that it does not do enough to secure the border, including Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky). However, the most heated point of contention in the debate has been amnesty. Public policy researchers largely disagree on the fiscal effects of amnesty. Senior Research Fellow at the Heritage Foundation Robert Rector wrote a detailed report demonstrating that amnesty would increase the fiscal burden of the already-monumental national debt because most undocumented workers tend to use welfare. On the other hand, others such as Alex Nowrasteh at the Cato Institute argue that statistics show undocumented workers have been paying more into the welfare system than they use.

Beyond such utilitarian arguments over amnesty, some have asserted that amnesty is conceptually flawed and ultimately immoral because it undermines the rule of law. Tom Cotton, a Republican in the House of Representatives from Arkansas, wrote in The Wall Street Journal, “The House of Representatives will reject any proposal with the Senate bill’s irreparably flawed structure, which is best described as: legalization first, enforcement later . . . maybe.” He goes on to argue, “We should welcome the many foreigners patiently obeying our laws and waiting overseas to immigrate legally. Instead, the Senate bill’s instant, easy legalization rewards lawbreakers and thus encourages more illegal immigration.” Imagine you stole a plasma screen TV. In accordance with the law, the TV would be confiscated and you would do time in jail. But what if the judge decided to be nice and let you have the TV, provided you apologize to the owner and pay for it? This is essentially how amnesty operates. Illegal immigrants are automatically legalized on the condition they pay fines and back taxes. Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama has been very outspoken in the immigration debate. In a Q&A session with The Washington Post, he explained,

We welcome somebody here, they come to America, implicitly we’re saying we’re going to create an environment where you have a chance to be successful. And if you create an environment that isn’t successful, isn’t that hurting minorities? Isn’t that hurting immigrants, isn’t it hurting Hispanics? I think it is. As well as African Americans and other people who are here. I think the right thing to do is say that we want a lawful system of immigration and this bill will do it. And it’s not unkind, there’s not anything wrong with wanting to create a system that works, that punishes those that come illegally and affirms those that come legally.

No matter the desperateness of their situation, immigrants must abide by the rule of law. Granting illegal immigrants with amnesty is not fair to the millions waiting in line lawfully. Perhaps the law as it is currently stands forces immigrants to wait too long, and perhaps it does not breed compassion for those in desperate need. This is why immigration reform is so important. However, if in our efforts to reform immigration we subvert the rule of law, we will in effect be rewarding lawbreaking. In that case, we may as well throw out immigration law altogether. Therefore, amnesty must not be included in immigration reform.

Quinn Treleven

A passion for the morality of free market economics was ignited in Quinn Treleven when he researched and wrote a thesis paper on the subject during his senior year of high school. Now pursuing majors in Political Science and Economics/Finance at Olivet Nazarene University near Chicago, Illinois, Quinn is preparing himself for a vocation in free market advocacy. Quinn supplements his studies by reading classic primary sources written by Hayek, Menger, Hazlitt, Friedman, and Mises. He also follows Cato and National Review Online. In June 2010, Quinn was honored to attend FEE’s “Introduction to Austrian Economics,” where his understanding of free market philosophy was deepened beyond his expectations. In the second semester of 2011-12, Quinn participated in a study abroad program with a business emphasis at Xiamen University, China, where in addition to language, culture and history, he studied Chinese business, ending the semester with an internship for a manufacturer based in Xiamen. Quinn spent his 2012 summer volunteering on the campaign of a GOP candidate for the U.S. Senate and participating in FEE’s “Communicating Liberty” seminar. An unashamed Star Wars fanatic, Quinn enjoys rock music, movies, hiking and rock climbing.