February 21, 2017 § 1 Comment
The dictionary describes a zombie as “. . . a creature capable of movement but not of rational thought. . . .”
The essential responsibility of those charged with the supervision of law enforcement in a democratic republic like ours is prosecutorial discretion. District Attorneys, County Attorneys, US Attorneys and the Attorney General of the United States are obligated to use judgment informed by principles of justice and fairness to impose guidance and limits to those entitled to use force to kill or capture people suspected of unlawful acts and omissions.
This feature of law enforcement is necessary because it is impossible and undesirable to use the criminal justice system to proceed with equal zeal to arrest the hungry person who shoplifts a loaf of bread and the bank teller who embezzles thousands of dollars. Priorities are necessary as a matter of justice as well as efficiency.
The Immigration Problem
Nowhere is this fundamental principle of criminal justice more obviously important than in our response to the problems of immigration. We have eleven million of our neighbors in large and small communities throughout our country who did not comply with the prescribed procedures for becoming citizens. Many of them have lived and worked and paid taxes and contributed their support to our country for periods of time varying from thirty or forty years to a week or a day. Many have children and grandchildren who are citizens because they were born here. Many have formal permission to be here – holders of “green cards” or visas entitling them to stay here for extended periods of time to attend schools, work as doctors, nurses, teachers, scientists, engineers – the gamut of useful employments.
The classification of these “undocumented aliens” is a daunting task because it should be done with gumption, fairness and discretion.
This classification process should have been done by Congress. It was not done for two reasons: First, a substantial segment of Republican members of both the House and Senate were more interested in blocking any significant accomplishment by President Obama than they were in performing the job which they had sworn to perform. Second, a sizable group of those GOP elected officials were unwilling to agree to any rational arrangement for deporting some aliens and granting conditional permission for many of them to remain as citizens of the United States. They were more interested in appealing to the bigotry and hatred of some of their constituents than in designing a reasonable and humane immigration law.
As a consequence of this legislative dereliction of duty, the task of seeking a solution to the immigration problem devolved to the President, who sought to create some degree of stability and rationality through executive orders.
As a result of the recent presidential election that responsibility is now dependent on President Donald Trump. His recent blunderbuss mishandling of travel from five predominantly Muslim countries bodes no confidence he will respond to this immigration issue in a rational or just way.
The Horrors of our Past as Cautions for out Present
Our history is littered with examples of how not to deal with problems like these. It began with our treatment of the Indian population that inhabited this land for thousands of years before our ancestors arrived. With many fits, starts and stumbles we ultimately solved this problem with genocide, almost destroying the Indian culture and most of its population. As we engaged in that atrocity, we simultaneously imported a segment of our population from Africa, against their will; then enslaved them and afforded them the right of citizenship only after a war than came close to destroying our nation.
In the 1940’s we imprisoned Japanese people living along the West Coast, regardless of their citizenship, because we let anger and fear overpower our Constitution and the principles upon which our country was founded.
At different times in our past we have discriminated against immigrants from China while simultaneously using many Chinese immigrants as close to slave labor to build our railroads. For awhile we discriminated against the Irish who fled Ireland for America to escape a famine. Later we discriminated against immigrants from Eastern Europe and from Italy. These examples of bigotry were some what moderated by the fact that, until the late 1900;s we had a sparsely populated frontier to which the victims of our prejudices could flee. That frontier has now been closed for over a hundred years and is no longer available.
Tu summarize, we have had several examples to warn us against wholesale mistreatment of people because of generalized classifications. We should not add another chapter of hateful abuse to our already embarrassing past. Simple rules should guide us: Punishment should be administered based on individual wrongdoing; not like an indiscriminate scythe, wounding the innocent along with the guilty, the children along with their parents and the worthy like the unworthy. Children should not be denied the stability of a family. Long time residents should not be treated the same as recent arrivals.
Statements like “They are all here illegally, therefore they are all equally guilty of a crime and all should be treated as criminals.” is the idiotic declaration of a simpleton; not a person with the mental equipment necessary for serious matters.
The Gathering Storm
Today, February 21, 2017, we have the first evidence that, having had his first ham-handed effort graded a failure by four federal judges, President Trump is revising his directions, while still, like a four-year-old child snuffling after a scolding, insisting that his rejected effort was perfectly crafted and expertly executed. This is not encouraging because it indicates he is uneducable, even by experience.
I have not read the new Executive Order but, based on the commentary about it, it apparently preserves the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) exemption in one place but, in another paragraph seems to call for deportation to all who have broken the law. It is not clear whether “broken the law” in this context means committed a crime after arriving in the U.S. or committed a crime by crossing the border into the U.S. without legal permission.
Regardless of the ambiguity of the new Executive Order, its application to the fate of the eleven million undocumented people in our country will depend on the way the Justice Department and the other government agencies involved in the enforcement of our immigration laws exercise discretion concerning the timing and choices based on that Order. If they proceed, willynilly, sending ill trained armed officers into communities all over our country with vague orders to arrest and detain everyone suspected of being here illegally, America will become a dsreputable example of a zombie nation, where the imposition of punishment and harm are meted out without regard to justice, fairness, rationality or morality.
We have already tarnished our reputation by turning a blind eye toward the abuse of Palestinians by the Netanyahu government in Israel. If we apply that same level of abuse to millions of men, women and children living in our own country, we will forfeit any right to boast of our standing as a beacon of justice and hope for the rest of the world.