A Nation of Laws?

Just like President Obama, Dick Cheney, and many other Americans, I’ve been thinking a lot about torture lately. I’ve been thinking how bad it is… unless it’s, like, you know, really needed and stuff… to stop bad people… right?

In any case, we’ve all heard the wobbly rationales justifying the waterboarding of terrorists (thanks for making us fall in love with you all over again, Mr. Cheney!). We’ve also heard the yowls of people upset that President Obama won’t release the latest batch of torture pictures. Let’s not go over those issues here.

What interests me – the guy who deals with Latino issues – is how this latest debate over illegal activity relates to immigration.

You see, conservatives who want to arrest every undocumented worker in sight often make the following argument: “They broke the law, so they can’t be integrated into American society. That would be rewarding illegal behavior. It’s the principle of law and order.”

Of course, I’m sure these statements are uttered only by virtuous souls who never steal office supplies, cheat on their taxes, or speed on the freeway (that would be illegal!).

The implication is that many Americans would be only too happy to accept millions of Mexicans, Salvadorans, Guatemalans, and so on – if only the newcomers followed the rules.

“I’m most dreadfully sorry,” the right-winger says. “But you didn’t fill out the correct paperwork and stand in line. So I’m going to have to demonize you, force you into the shadows, and kick you out of the country if I can. It’s the law, you know.”

Now, as I’ve stated before, I’m not in favor of throwing open the border and letting anyone who’s interested just climb aboard. Having millions of undocumented workers in the country is not good for the nation or for them. Furthermore, immigration reform will require a combination of liberal and conservative ideas to pull off.

But let’s stop with the self-righteousness.

For many Americans, this isn’t about respecting the law. This isn’t some principled stance for fairness.

It’s about lots of dark-skinned people speaking a funny language while crowding them at the grocery store.

The irony bludgeons me. Many conservative commentators identify jumping a fence as a heinous crime that must be punished. We can’t talk about issuing amnesty or making the undocumented pay a penalty or taking a creative approach to the problem. It’s zero-tolerance time.


However, many of these same commentators – in a truly astounding display of having it both ways – then turn around and say, “But torturing someone until they talk, that’s ok. Sometimes, you have to break the law, you know.”


Yes, there is a difference. For starters, crossing into America illegally is a federal offense. Torturing someone, however, is against the laws of the nation, prohibited by the Constitution, banned under international treaties, forbidden under the rules of war, and both ethically and morally repugnant.

So it’s clear which one is worse. Hey, it’s right there in the term: illegal immigrant.


5 Responses to “A Nation of Laws?”

  1. May 23, 2009 at 11:30 am

    Thank you for putting it this way–very clarifying. It makes the hypocrisy easier to see.

  2. May 23, 2009 at 12:03 pm

    We need to stop the drug violence along the Mexican border. It’s Iran-Contra all over again, accept we have a democrat in charge and it’s closer to home. People on both sides of the fence are dying. Reagan gave amnesty back in the 80’s, something democrats are too weak-willed to do.
    I’m appalled at our failings as a people. And oh, by the way, I’m a democrat myself.

  3. May 23, 2009 at 10:42 pm

    Great post! I Love the comparison to speeding on the highway. It made me smile because every time someone does not follow the rules while driving I complain to my wife (jokingly) that they are criminals because they broke the law. It’s indeed interesting how people pick and choose what laws are considered offensive when broken. And you are absolutely right, it has nothing to do with the act of breaking the law and everything to do with not wanting these “different” people around. I wrote precisely about this subject in my blog, Latino Opinion. See http://www.latinoopinion.com/2009/04/why-are-there-so-many-americans-against-latino-immigration/

  4. May 24, 2009 at 9:32 am

    Great point. The nativist right accepts torture with a knowing wink but foams at the mouth in demonizing people who break the law simply to do honest work. To get a sense of the unvarnished hatred these bigots can spew, read the comments to my recent essay on the Orlando Sentinel’s Hispanosphere blog.


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