Martyrs

Rebecca:

I’ve often wondered if I would have the courage to confront racial or religious harassment in a public setting.

I wonder that even more now:

The suspect is currently in Portland police custody. The stabbing occurred at about 4:30 this afternoon as the light-rail train pulled into the Hollywood Transit Center.

Details of the triple stabbing, which killed two men, are still emerging. But eyewitness reports to KATU and The Oregonian indicate it was an anti-immigrant hate crime.

What is there to say? These dead passengers are heroes. They are martyrs. They stuck up for somebody who needed their help — and they paid price for it. Let us forever be thankful for them.

And let us pray we have the courage to defend the people who need defending, even if it comes with a personal cost.

— Joel

‘Illegal Immigration’ is About to Be More Illegal

Rebecca:

You recently noted that the term “illegal immigration” can be something of a misnomer:

But, actually, simply being here without proper documentation is a violation of the law punishable by civil, not criminal, penalties. Improper entry—coming into the US when you don’t have the proper authority to do so (swimming the Rio Grande, scaling the stupid wall we already have)—is a criminal offense punishable by up to 6 months in a jail and a small fine. To be found guilty of improper entry, the state has to show evidence beyond a shadow of a reasonable doubt that you entered improperly—just like with other crimes. Unlawful presence is also a violation of federal law—but it’s a civil offense, not a criminal one. When Americans travel abroad and overstay their visas, we often address this with a bribe.* When visitors to the US are not presently here lawfully, we can deport them—but that doesn’t make them criminals.

About that…

This morning, Attorney General Jeff Sessions visited the US-Mexico border in Nogales, Arizona to announce a new get-tough approach to immigration enforcement, directing federal prosecutors to pursue harsher charges against undocumented immigrants. “For those that continue to seek improper and illegal entry into this country,” Sessions said, “be forewarned: This is a new era. This is the Trump era.”

In his remarks, Sessions said nonviolent immigrants who enter the country illegally for a second time will no longer be charged with a misdemeanor but a felony. He also recommended that prosecutors charge “criminal aliens” with document fraud and aggravated identity theft, which carries a two-year minimum sentence. In January, President Donald Trump expanded the definition of which immigrants can be considered “criminal” to include anyone who has committed “a chargeable criminal offense,” which could include sneaking across the border.

I’ve mentioned before that immigration law falls into a weird area where crime is concerned — somebody stabbing another person is something we can all identify as a trespass, but breaking immigration law means you’ve violated standards that a quorum of legislators decided upon one time, and from which there might’ve been some serious dissent. It’s a crime in the same sense that barbering without a license might understood to be a crime: Maybe it’s not, really.

This is even weirder. Jeff Sessions has decided, apparently on his own — certainly without the input of Congress — that entering the United States is not just a crime but a felonious crime, akin in the federal system of laws to bank robbery or taking a kidnapped person across state lines. It’s a bureaucratic change — not a change in the severity of the actual offense — that will nonetheless have real consequences in the lives of real people.

This might be less objectionable if Sessions — and the president he serves — didn’t continually conflate undocumented immigration with worse, real crimes.

As he proposed stiffer penalties for nonviolent immigrants, Sessions also targeted gangs and cartels “that turn cities and suburbs into war zones, that rape and kill innocent citizens and who profit by smuggling poison and other human beings across our borders.” Invoking unusually severe language in the written version of his announcement, Sessions proclaimed, “It is here, on this sliver of land, where we first take our stand against this filth.”

But as Mother Jones notes: “In contrast to the dire picture Sessions painted, crime rates in American border cities have been dropping for at least five years. Even after a year of increased violent crime—which officials said had nothing to do with cartels or spillover violence—El Paso, Texas, is among the safest of its size in the nation.”

We’re going to send people to prison for the crime of believing in the promise of this country. And we’re going to do it on the basis of a lie. I hate the Trump Era.

— Joel

Is immigration enforcement more a crime than illegal immigration?

Rebecca:

I’ve got some traveling to do today and tomorrow, so not a lot of time to share this thought. But I want to say a few words about how the kind of enforcement we’re seeing against illegal immigration under the Trump Administration more closely resembles a crime than does the “crime” of illegal immigration.

A key feature of any crime worthy of the name, it seems to me, is that the act of committing it is clearly and negatively disruptive, either to an individual life — a person may be injured, killed, deprived of property or merely their sense of well-being — or to the community at large. (Indeed the disruption to an individual is seen as a disruption to the community: That’s why criminal prosecutions are carried out in the name of the state, rather than individual victims.)

Illegal immigration is a different kind of crime, because the negative disruption is, at best, debatable. Maybe undocumented migrants lower wages for everybody else, but maybe not — or at least maybe not so much. Maybe undocumented migrants commit crimes, but the numbers suggest crime rates are lower among migrants than among native-born people. There’s evidence that migrants tend to be more entrepreneurial than native-born folks; there’s evidence that the influx of migrants has kept some towns in, say, western Kansas from drying up and dying out completely.

In other words, there’s probably a mix of effects from illegal immigration — I tend to use the word to describe the issue, not individuals, because the “illegal” part is the point of the undocumentation — but one of them is this: Those migrants often become part of the community.

So. When you start getting heavy-handed efforts to enforce immigration law, and to deport undocumented migrants, what you get is:

• Attempts to deport people who are pillars of their community.

Attempts to deport people who are trying to comply, even belatedly, with immigration law.

Fear among immigrant communities about doing the normal stuff of life like going to work or church.

I’ve got a lot more examples than this, but you get the point: The enforcement of the law becomes the thing that disrupts the community.

Especially when you consider that the enforcement is also falling heavily on American citizens and other people who are here legally, because they — by virtue of skin color — become objects of suspicion. Immigration enforcement hurts American citizens!

My friends who want harder borders and bigger walls will no doubt respond that illegal immigration is, after all, illegal — that the disruptions to the community are caused, foundationally, by the initial transgression of immigration. OK.

But it’s worth pointing out that illegal immigration is a somewhat arbitrary crime. We know instinctively if somebody’s committed a crime when robbery or a murder or an assault takes place; these crimes have been understood and punished throughout the history of humanity. Immigration? There’s a lot of legislative negotiating that goes into deciding where the lines are drawn. Illegal immigration isn’t a crime because the conscience is shocked by it so much as it’s a crime because a committee somewhere decided that it is. (This is the kind of thing that conservatives are usually against, by the way.)

All of which leads me, again, to believe that some immigration enforcement is much more a “crime” in the traditional sense than is illegal immigration.

But maybe I’m just rationalizing?

— Joel