A Thought on Immigration and Amnesty

The immigration debate in Washington boils down to a debate over how to handle the country’s 11 million or so illegal residents.  A Washington Post editorial over the weekend suggested a compromise: let them stay but don’t give them citizenship.

No.  Either we believe in redemption and rehabilitation, or we don’t.  We do believe in it, at least tacitly, for other criminal behavior—capital murder and sex offenses nearly the only things that are excepted.  And sex offenses get heinous acts.  Nearly all other offenses against us or our society have endpoints to the penalty exacted, and then the offender pretty much is allowed to go on his way with a clean slate.

A man enters our country illegally, though, and after that single and singular crime, he makes himself a productive member of his community.  On what basis do we insist that this crime is so heinous that he must pay for it for the rest of his life—the he must be denied any opportunity to earn citizenship in our country?  On what basis do we say his illegal entry—his sole crime (and it is a crime, no doubt)—is of a piece with capital murder or molesting a child?

Pay a price for having entered illegally?  Pay a price for having violated a traffic law?  Certainly.  And that means there’s no amnesty, either for the illegal entry or the traffic violation.  But there’s also more to this than just the utilitarianism of punishment for a crime and calling it square.  There’s the morality of it—redemption and rehabilitation.  We give that much to our felons, why not also to a man whose only crime is that he came illegally into our country to make a better life for himself and his family?  No.  Allowing a path along which to earn citizenship, a path that includes a price for illegal entry, isn’t amnesty.

The man who comes here and makes his way, who becomes a contributing member of our society—that’s the kind of man we want to immigrate.  That’s the kind of initiative, of drive, of work ethic, of desire to make a better life that brings creativity to our economy and to our nation.

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