The Origins of Ambivalence Regarding Immigration Enforcement

By Stanley Renshon on September 3, 2013

It's understandable that the country's 11.5 million illegal aliens have mostly made their decisions to come here in violation of our immigration laws without considering the cumulative effect of those millions of decisions on country in which they want to live and work. They are focused on their own circumstances and how to improve them.

Americans however, also understandably, have a different focus.

They are, and must remain, stewards of their own country. Through accidents of birth or the decisions of their parents or grandparents to take the legal steps necessary to come to this country, Americans have become part of that community. As a result, they are responsible for it — its cultural traditions, its economic benefits, and its liberal democratic political order.

And, in order to exercise that responsibility, they are going to have to resolve their ambivalence about immigration enforcement.

Part of that ambivalence originates in the natural sympathy that many Americans feel for those who seek a better life, even if they violate our immigration laws. And those compassionate feelings are to our credit.

However, illegal aliens are not the only ones who merit our concern and compassion.

Illegal migration is not a victimless crime. Among the victims are the rule of law, public confidence in the government's ability to enforce the laws, and public alienation as a result of serial serious misrepresentations and misleading euphemisms that take place when immigration debates occur.

Moreover, some of the public's ambivalence stems from attempts, successful to some degree, to minimize the cumulative impact of massive numbers of illegal aliens coming into our country without permission.

One method of doing so has been to try to redefine the seriousness of breaking our immigration laws. This has been the clear tactic of many liberals and some conservatives.

So, on the right, anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, while addressing a recent Topeka breakfast meeting packed with state lawmakers, said that "Trying to punish everyone who broke the law getting into the country, would be like fining everyone who ever broke the national 55-mile-an-hour speed limit, before that was lifted."

On the left, an aide to Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), in discussing some concerns that those who had been convicted of crimes would be eligible for legalization, nonetheless said "No serious crimes would be allowed. Misdemeanor crimes are all minor crimes by definition. ... Murderers are not going to be eligible under the DREAM Act." (Emphasis added)

That second sentence is untrue, and the first is therefore misleading. Misdemeanor crimes are not all minor crimes by definition. For example, a quick look through the New York State penal code lists many misdemeanor infractions that should give us pause when considering possible legalization. Among them: menacing in the second degree, reckless endangerment in the second degree, assault in the third degree, conspiracy in the fifth degree, and the list goes on.

The confounding of criminal seriousness in general with the most murderous felony categories for the purposes of increasing public support regarding eligibility for legalized status is no accident. It is designed to both reassure and obscure.

And that dishonest effort is a small part of an overall history of neglect.

Next: Immigration Enforcement: A History of Neglect