Commentary on Alabama Law and Society

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Location: Birmingham, Alabama

Monday, May 08, 2006

Update: Just Like Old Times

Like Solomon said, there is nothing new under the sun. From today's WaPo:

The bitter arguments of the past echo loudly these days as Congress debates toughening the nation's immigration laws and immigrants from Latin America and Asia swell the streets of U.S. cities in protest. Most of the concerns voiced today -- that too many immigrants seek economic advantage and fail to understand democracy, that they refuse to learn English, overcrowd homes and overwhelm public services -- were heard a century ago. And there was a nub of truth to some complaints, not least that the vast influx of immigrants drove down working-class wages.

Yet historians and demographers are clear about the bottom line: In the long run, New York City -- and the United States -- owes much of its economic resilience to replenishing waves of immigrants.

Not only are the arguments for tougher laws re-treads, but they are unpersuasive.

too many immigrants seek economic advantage and fail to understand democracy: How does that makes them different from the rest of us?

that they refuse to learn English: So? Who cares if Spanish becomes the national language, or if we end up bi-lingual. The real shame is that most of us will never learn a second language. Besides, the second generation will learn English.

overcrowd homes and overwhelm public services: If they want to cram ten people into a two bedroom apartment, that is not my problem. The discomfort is theirs, and if the landlord does not like it he can restrict the occupancy in the lease. As for the public service drain, I have not seen evidence that illegals use more than anyone else.

The same goes for crime/security. I see no reason to be more suspicious of illegals.

Finally, about the rule of law issue. I agree that the rule of law is very important. I disagree that suddenly deciding not just to enforce existing law, but to retroactively ratchet up the penalties is the best way to preserve the rule of law when the lawbreaking is due to decades of non-enforcement. We have spent years winking and nodding at illegals. Not surprisingly, they failed to respect the law which we have not enforced. That makes us complicit in their lawbreaking. So, in my view, if you want to be tough and fair, excuse those who are here and spend the resources necessary to enforce the current laws from this point forward.