Hard Cases Make Bad Law

Since Donald Trump took office the left has been apoplectic. Even those who previously hid their politics, preferring to politely demur during political discussions, have stepped out of the shadows to express their outrage at the new administration’s supposed awfulness. Nothing has been more motivating to these new commentators on morality than our illegal immigration problem. Accusations of racism, which continue to fly, have been eclipsed, at least in my social universe, by righteous indignation and moral outrage concerning Trump’s immigration enforcement actions.

Last week in my home town of Alexandria, Virginia, ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) arrested several illegal immigrants who had congregated in a church run “hypothermia” shelter. Multiple men were reportedly detained once they left the shelter and walked across the street, and several, presumably in the country illegally, were taken away from the scene. Not shying away from political statements, at least not lately, local church leaders were quick to alert their congregations to this outrage, and quick to call for us, the faithful, to join in the protests of this action.

About the time this was happening two news items crossed my Facebook and Twitter feeds. The first was a video of a woman, with children born in the US, crying after being told she may be deported as a criminal alien, given that she had used a fraudulent social security number to gain employment, which is a crime. The other was a story of an illegal immigrant in Texas who was convicted and sentenced to prison for illegally voting. She will likely also be deported.

All this is very sad, devastating in fact, and the #resistance is quick to tug on our heartstrings as they ask “how can you allow this to happen?” I join them in cringing at these hard cases, even if I know, as they apparently do not, that the Obama Administration was no slouch when it came to similar deportations. Perhaps instead of pointing fingers at those enforcing the law, however, it is finally time for all Americans to look in the mirror and ask ourselves, “how did we CAUSE this to happen?”

All immigrants, but especially those coming illegally, take great risks for the promise of improving their lives and those of their children. In addition to the hardships faced by those arriving legally, illegal immigrants often cross oceans, rivers and deserts in intense conditions, avoid law enforcement and predators alike during their crossing, and then face the prospect of living forever in the shadows, in order to reach, and live in, the United States. Most are just trying to improve their lot in life, and no one, not liberals and not conservatives, can really blame them for that (those coming with criminal intent excepted, of course). It is completely understandable that people who live in failing societies around the world would want to come to the United States and grab their chance at the American dream. What a shame it is when those hopes are dashed, and how horrible it is when they finally come to face to face with the consequences of their actions. They have broken the law, and like all lawbreakers, will eventually suffer when their crimes are discovered and prosecuted. Those who have avoided the law the longest face the toughest life consequences. When that happens only the most heartless would not feel sorry for them. These are hard cases, and it is hard to watch as the consequences are realized.

Why, we should ask, are these cases so hard? Because, simply put, Democrats (and, yes, open-border Republicans) have lured illegal immigrants here for decades under the false promise that we would never actually enforce our immigration laws, and that they could enter illegally and stay indefinitely, taking advantage of all that the US has to offer. This was a lie. That lie assumed a willful and continued disregard of the laws, duly passed by Congress, that made their presence here illegal and their capture punishable by deportation. That has always been the law, at least in our lifetimes, and it was cruel and irresponsible to signal to desperate people that the law would not be enforced. Whether one supported this rampant disobedience to the law for altruistic purposes, or because one needed cheap labor, the result is the same. People came with the expectation that they could stay. And they cannot.

So now millions of people, here illegally, have homes, children born in the US, jobs and property, and lives lived in the US, some for many decades. We are, however, a nation of laws, and like all sovereign nations have the right to control our borders.

The United States is, in fact, very generous in accepting immigrants. According to Pew Research, “[a]s of 2015, the United Nations estimates that 46.6 million people living in the United States were not born there. This means that about one-in-five international migrants (19%) live in the U.S. The U.S. immigrant population is nearly four times that of the world’s next largest immigrant destination – Germany…” We celebrate the fact that we are “a nation of immigrants.” But with between 12 and 30 million people living here illegally, the people have given the President clear marching orders, “enforce the law.” As the Executive finally, rightfully, enforces our laws – which they should have been doing all along – we are unfortunately going to witness scenes of heart wrenching sadness. Decades of lawlessness have left us with a terrible choice, either enforce the law and suffer the consequences, or continue to allow our laws to be ignored, and continue to persuade people to sneak into the country and live in the shadows. The more we avoid enforcement, the worse the problem gets, and the harder the cases become.

In our system, however, the President does not really have a choice of which laws to “dutifully execute.” A true President, a principled Chief Executive, must enforce those passed by Congress. We should also remember that continuing to support illegal acts will not make this problem go away, nor make the cases any easier – in fact they will get harder as more time passes.

Then, many will argue, we should change the law. Perhaps we should. Until we do, however, the law must be followed, even if the hard cases make us uncomfortable. We live in a representative republic. As Americans we change laws first via the ballot box, and then via the legislature. Attempts at immigration reform have failed multiple times, and they have failed because the people, the citizens who run this country, do not want them to succeed. Protestors like to yell “this is what democracy looks like” when rabble rousing with the crowd, but they are wrong. Mobs are definitely NOT what the American brand of democracy looks like. The minority does not get to force the hand of the majority to accept changes in laws they do not want because too many people have decided to disobey them.

So let’s flip the outrage on its head. I am angry that we have reached this point. I am not going to apologize for supporting the application of the law as written. We should cry for those affected, but we should not be bullied into changing laws by the mob. Instead of lecturing those who say “enforce the law,” perhaps those who have enticed the vulnerable to break the law should look in the mirror. Those who led people to believe that they could break US immigration laws without consequence have wronged both this country and the people who believed them.

Protests against the Trump Administration may make people feel morally superior, but perhaps a little introspection is in order. Instead of missives of moral superiority, perhaps a humble apology should be offered. As we watch these sad cases come to fruition, some decades in the making, we should take the opportunity to reflect on the inevitable wages of lawlessness. These are hard cases, but hard cases make bad law. Making the cases harder does not make the law any better. As a nation of laws we should enforce those we have, or we should change them. Encouraging people to break them will only lead eventually to despair. We see that sad result today, and I for one am angry about it.