The effort to weaken interior immigration enforcement is, of course, waged all the time on many fronts, executive, legislative, and judicial.
One of the oddest weapons used by the other side in this battle has just popped up. It is the suggestion that the government should be using 1917 dictionaries as it defines "harboring" when applied to those who help illegal aliens stay in this country. It comes from a distinguished, conservative judge, Richard Posner of the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.
The facts of the case are as follows: Deanna Costello had a once-deported, illegal alien boyfriend, a Mexican national. They lived together in the deeply depressed, small Mississippi River town of Cahokia, Ill., from March to October 2006. Later he was convicted of selling drugs. Still later the feds decided to prosecute her under a 1917 law for "harboring an illegal alien." Apparently there was no question about either their relationship or their living arrangements.
She was convicted at the district court level, given two years of probation and a $200 fine, and then appealed to the Circuit Court, which ruled that what she was doing for him, and with him, was not really "harboring".
In a split, and I think, hairsplitting, opinion, Judge Posner, for the two-judge majority, wrote:
The government argues that "to harbor" just means to house a person, a meaning that it claims to derive from dictionaries that were in print in 1952 or today; surprisingly the government omits dictionaries that were current in 1917, when concealing and harboring aliens were added to the prohibition of smuggling aliens into this country ....
The actual definition of "to harbor" that the government has found in these dictionaries and urges us to adopt is "to shelter" which is not synonymous with "to provide a place to stay." "To shelter" has an aura of protectiveness .... "Sheltering" doesn't seem the right word for letting your boyfriend live with you … .
The third judge on the appeals panel, Daniel Manion, disagreed, writing "[T]he plain language of the statute and the stipulated facts support the conviction of harboring."
The reference to 1952 is interesting, because it relates to an earlier, and equally successful effort to water down interior enforcement. At that time the Congress passed an amendment to the earlier law making it clear that "harboring" did not apply to providing housing in connection with employment, a boon to the exploiters of illegal aliens, particularly in agriculture where illegal aliens are often housed on farms or ranches. The 1952 amendment was later reversed when employer sanctions became part of the law.
Although the opinion does not reference it, that 1952 amendment was pushed through the House of Representatives by the then-young Rep. Lloyd Bentsen (D-Texas), who later became a long-serving U.S. Senator, the Secretary of the Treasury under President Clinton, and the person who famously put down Dan Quayle in the 1988 vice-presidential debate, saying "Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy, I knew Jack Kennedy, Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy."
The dictionary ruling surfaced in an interesting, non-immigration-oriented way. My wife pointed it out to me in a March 3 entry at Language Log, a blog about the use of words. The Seventh Circuit decision itself, filed on January 31, 2011, can be retrieved by users of PACER, the courts' electronic data system, as United States v. Costello, no. 11-2917.