I wasn’t going to bring the subject of Arizona’s immigration law up again so soon, but the latest column by Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite in the Washington Post just demands a response. She starts off this way:
“Reasonable suspicion” as the pretext for law enforcement deciding whom to investigate relies on the idea that it is OK for our primary approach to our neighbor to be one based on distrust, before that neighbor has done anything that might be considered wrong. This is a disastrous attitude for a democracy to develop because it will erode the very cement that holds us together as a people.
“Reasonable suspicion” is a legal term that has a specific meaning. It very definitely does not mean that “our primary approach to our neighbor” should be one of “distrust.” In the Arizona law, furthermore, “reasonable suspicion” only comes into play when a police officer has made a contact (typically a traffic stop) where a legal infraction has taken place. So Thistlethwaite is already viewing with alarm a problem that exists primarily in her own mind.
This new Arizona immigration law is morally corrupting of who we should want to be as an [sic] Americans who live in an open society and cherish freedom and democracy. It’s more like the closed and suspicious societies behind the “Iron Curtain” that we decried so much during the Cold War.
This whole line of thinking–the reductio ad Sovietum–is all the rage on the left. It’s hard to believe that allegedly well-educated people could think this an effective argument, but it is typical of people who are unwilling to make a case for what they actually support. More on this in a moment.
I went to a church meeting in East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall. The organizers of the conference were peace activists I knew through church contacts and through anti-nuclear organizing. Of course I had to carry my passport and other papers indicating I was in East Berlin legally–one would expect that in a foreign country. But the East Germans had to constantly have documentation. This really struck me as so different from the U.S.
This is simply inane. First problem: it has been required that all resident aliens in the United States carry proof of legal status on them at all times since the administration of FDR. Second problem: American citizens are not required to have such documentation on their person the way East Germans were. Third problem: illegal aliens fit into neither of the first two categories, because they are in the country illegally. Why is this so hard for some people to understand? Those whom this law is aimed at have already broken the law by virtue of their presence in the country. Their problems isn’t that they don’t have their papers on them; it’s that they don’t have them at all. In other words, there is no comparison with life under Soviet totalitarianism. Oh, and the Berlin Wall? It was meant to keep people in, not out. That’s another little detail that people such as Thistlethwaite seem to have a hard time grasping.
Loving one’s neighbor as oneself isn’t some abstract ideal that would be nice if we could get it, but really doesn’t work in practice. It is actually quite a practical notion since it’s based on the solid recognition that it’s very likely what you do to others will be done to you, so you’d better try to treat other people decently.
No question about that, but look where she goes with it:
It’s a practical notion because as Rep. Luis Gutierrez has said, building trust with the Latino/a community is critical for law enforcement to be able to get tips on drug deals and terrorists from within the group of those most likely to know who is who, and what is what. “[W]hat is going to happen is–the eyes, the ears, that the police need so much of the community in general, so that they can combat crime, they’re going to–they’re going to cause a division between the people in the population and the police department.”
Leaving aside the fact that the drug dealers and terrorists are also illegals, there’s no question that there needs to be trust between police and the Hispanic community. But what does it say about the latter that the price of that trust is to essentially demand that the police don’t enforce the immigration laws of the United States? It is not a matter of “loving one’s neighbor” to give them a pass on laws that might adversely effect them. Rather, I would contend that the loving thing to do would be to say to Mexicans who want to come to the U.S. that they should do what so many of their countrymen do every year–follow the legal process for admission as residents, rather than coming here in defiance of the laws of the nation they want to live in, and then hide behind phony charges of “racism” to try to avoid the due penalty for that defiance.
What Thistlethwaite won’t say, but which I think is implicit in everything she and so many others on the left have been saying, is that the United States should open its borders to any and all who wish to come. That’s a respectable position–I used to be a proponent of open borders myself. Open immigration helped make America great, and in a way is a unique expression of the genius of the American experiment. But people on both the secular and religious left know that they have no chance of convincing the electorate of that given the current economic climate, so instead they demand its functional equivalent of zero enforcement. The problem is that, while the result might be the same in terms of immigration, decrying any enforcement of immigration law has the effect of bringing all law enforcement into disrepute. That’s hardly the best way to go about loving your neighbor.
UPDATE: If you want to see what the real answer to illegal immigration likely is, check out this article by Mario Loyola.