David Rodeback's Blog

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Tuesday, August 3, 2010
Immigration Reform: My Wild Fantasy and Five Postulates

Just wait 'til you see how I try to get you in the mood to share my fantasy. I figure you might need some help with that, since you (unlike I) did not just return from Disneyland.

A Necessary and Necessarily Fanciful Introduction

For the last six weeks, I've spent my blogging time buying a new home, moving into it, painting the old home, and going on vacation to Disneyland. The family and I are quite fond of the new home, but I much prefer blogging to the actual buying, moving, and painting. I almost prefer blogging to Disneyland, which I very much enjoy. If I hadn't spent so much of my sleeping time doing those other things, too, I'd still have found a way to blog. Alas.

I'm back.

Last Saturday night, I was tucked snugly into my spacious and comfortable hotel bed at the Howard Johnson across the street from Disneyland, when I had an odd dream. (I'm not making this up.) In my dream Hillary Clinton came to stay with us at our new home for a while. It seemed clear to me in the dream that she was trying to escape the paparazzi, who were especially invigorated by Chelsea's lavish, highly publicized, but private wedding over the weekend. Maybe the mother of bride was trying to escape the father of the bride, too; he reportedly tried to moonwalk at the wedding.

Madame Secretary arrived in a plain and modest vehicle, without publicity or attendants, and in the dark of night. We situated her in our new guest room. In my dream it was obvious: our home was the natural place for her to hide from everything for a while. No one would ever suspect her of hiding away in the modest home of a very minor but decidedly conservative blogger in the Mormon heart of Utah.

Hospitality and good guest manners plainly dictated that we would not discuss politics with the former First Lady, US Senator, and presidential candidate. With profound political differences off the table, she was a gracious, quiet, and pleasant guest. I recall being surprised that she didn't seem shrill at all.

The Meaning of It All

I mention this nocturnal weirdness in part because I know some of you enjoy my weirdness, which is pretty weird of you, if I may say so. But mostly I indulge it because, although I am just back from Disneyland, you are not. I think the wild and strange political fantasy I'm about to describe might fare better if I first invite you to join me in the proper fantastic mood.

(I hasten to assure certain wags among you that my outlandish political fantasy has nothing directly to do with Secretary Clinton, whose role in this blog post has already ended.)

The Fantasy and the Postulates

Are you ready? Here's my wild, strange, outlandish political fantasy:

Let's pretend for a few minutes that it's possible to have a calm, rational discussion of illegal immigration.

We won't finish our discussion today, but we'll get a good start in the form of some postulates. A postulate ("PAW - styoo - luht") is something we accept as a starting point for our reasoning, without systematic proof -- either because we don't know how to prove it properly, even if we believe it to be true, or because we want to get past it quickly and on to other things. In Euclidean geometry, the kind I hope you studied thoroughly in school, the most prominent example of a postulate is the Parallel Postulate, which more or less states that parallel lines never meet. It has defied proof for millennia, but it is nonetheless useful.

Today I offer five postulates to begin our calm, rational search for a solution to our thorny immigration problem. Each has the capacity to offend, even to arouse the full-throated opposition of, one faction or another in the debate, so it may really be necessary to keep that fantastic mood about you as you consider them.

Postulate: Compromise

Both sides of the rancor resist compromise. The hard right wing finds any suggestion of compromise to be a hopeless breach of divine morality and the United States Constitution. The hard left doesn't think it will need to compromise; even the problem itself serves their ends to a degree. For my part, I don't see either side prevailing anytime soon so completely that it could enforce its will on the issue, and I'm really not comfortable with the extreme positions, anyway.

So I take it as a given: a reasonable, effective solution will require compromise.

Postulate: Immigration Itself Is Good

There are some -- whose ancestors already immigrated successfully sometime in the past -- who think immigration in the present or future tense is a bad thing. A few of these are racists or some other sort of bigot, I suppose, but a lot of them are not. Many of the others buy into some knee-jerk zero-sum world view, in which the size of the pie is fixed, and the fewer there are among whom to divide it, the better. I'm not one of these. I am wholeheartedly in favor of the orderly, legal immigration of law-abiding people. I'd actually like to see a lot more legal immigration, not less. So I postulate:

Immigration is good.

Postulate: Large-Scale Drug and Human Trafficking Must Stop

The situation now is not simply that nice, hard-working people who want a better life are seeking it by flooding over our southern border into Texas, Arizona, and California. We are seeing the systematic, deliberate invasion of the United States not by the Mexican nation itself, but by criminal organizations which the Mexican government does not support, exactly, but which it tolerates and sometimes seems almost to justify and defend. These criminal interests now reportedly control some territory within the United States.

Among other things, these criminal organizations traffic in drugs and -- worse -- in humans. This ongoing trade is far more brutal and far less tolerable than the legal violation committed by someone who simply crosses the border without the proper authorization. It is also far more urgent a problem. Unabated, it would make a mockery of any serious attempt at immigration reform.

I take this as a given: When the United States has been invaded by hostile forces, the use of overwhelming military force is justified and required. Surely we have the military capability to seal our entire southern border, except for the established, legal crossing points. It's past time to muster the political will to do so.

Please note that I have not advocated a military solution to the presence of many millions of illegal immigrants who are already in the United States. That is a different sort of problem; a military solution would be quite inappropriate.

Postulate: The Existing Immigration Bureaucracy is Dysfunctional

The Obama administration's political and legal war on Arizona for trying to enforce federal immigration law fairly screams to the whole world that being in the United States illegally is perfectly okay with the US government. But this is by no means a new message. For a long time the slow, disjointed legal immigration process itself has all but begged -- and in some cases, has forced -- good people who try to comply with our law to remain in the country illegally instead. The bureaucracy cannot handle its present load competently.

Therefore, I postulate any serious immigration reform must radically remake the immigration bureaucracy, and it should simplify the immigration process as much as reasonably possible.

Postulate: Humanity

There may be related legal or even constitutional principles, but I don't need them in order to believe that, insofar as it is possible, our immigration reform should treat humans humanely. I do not believe that a person's violation of some immigration law in itself justifies brutality or summary judgment.

A lot of people on the right think that any lawbreaking makes a person a criminal. I assume that none of these ever breaks a speed limit in driving to and from work, school, or Disneyland. But there is something here of greater moment than the glass houses principle. When a government systematically, deliberately, conspicuously, and for an extended period leaves a given law largely unenforced, that law, even if it remains on the books, ceases to have the full force of law, even if it has never been formally repealed. When a government openly attempts to prevent other levels of government enforcing its law, this is doubly true.

I'll say more of this later, but for now: Our immigration reform must be humane, and the existence of a systematically unenforced law does not justify inhumanity in a suddenly renewed effort to enforce it.


Before we move on to the next installment of this discussion, let's review our postulates:

  • Compromise is necessary.
  • Legal immigration is good.
  • The invasion of the southwestern United States by criminal organizations trafficking in drugs and humans must be repelled.
  • The current immigration bureaucracy is grossly dysfunctional and must be remade.
  • A healthy sense of humanity should guide our efforts.

Next time we'll begin to work our way from these postulates toward some actual solutions. Please try to keep the spirit of fantasy alive in your mind as we do so, else we slip back into the useless mire of partisan posturing.

Todd Berbert comments (8/14/2010):

David, I agree with your postulates and I look forward to learning about your ideas for immigration reform. It is surprisingly difficult to find people with workable solutions, particularly politicians. Like you pointed out, most of the politicians take extreme positions either towards the left or the right, and they are unwilling to have an open debate involving any discussion of compromise. Maybe they just need someone like you to point them in the right direction.

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