Illicit Use of "Illegal"?

by Don Boudreaux on October 30, 2007

in Immigration

Law — what it is, where it comes from, how it changes — is not as simple a concept as many believe it to be.  The modern popular myth is that law is created by government, so that in democratic countries, law is created by The People exclusively through their representatives.  Statutes and regulations duly enacted by the state are, under this view, “the law.”

This account of the law is grossly incomplete.  Much law (I would argue most law) emerges spontaneously in the course of multitudes of human interactions and is never — or only after the fact — written down in a statute book.  In addition, much “law” that is written in statute books truly isn’t law in any operational sense.  (Is it really unlawful to jaywalk?  Or to drive at 60 mph on a highway whose posted speed limit is 55 mph?)

Greater recognition that promulgation by the state is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for a rule to become law would make the current debate over immigration much more fruitful and much less shrill.  (So, too, would the recognition that violation of some laws are more serious than are violation of other laws.)

This essay by Lawrence Downes appearing in Sunday’s New York Times makes an important point.  Here are the opening paragraphs:

I am a human pileup of illegality. I am an illegal driver and an illegal parker and even an illegal walker, having at various times stretched or broken various laws and regulations that govern those parts of life. The offenses were trivial, and I feel sure I could endure the punishments — penalties and fines — and get on with my life. Nobody would deny me the chance to rehabilitate myself. Look at Martha Stewart, illegal stock trader, and George Steinbrenner, illegal campaign donor, to name two illegals whose crimes exceeded mine.

Good thing I am not an illegal immigrant. There is no way out of that trap. It’s the crime you can’t make amends for. Nothing short of deportation will free you from it, such is the mood of the country today. And that is a problem.

America has a big problem with illegal immigration, but a big part of it stems from the word “illegal.” It pollutes the debate. It blocks solutions. Used dispassionately and technically, there is nothing wrong with it. Used as an irreducible modifier for a large and largely decent group of people, it is badly damaging. And as a code word for racial and ethnic hatred, it is detestable.

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{ 49 comments }

Chris October 30, 2007 at 8:30 am

I think you're mixing up custom and law. Yes, it's unlawful to drive 60 in a 55 zone. However, the custom among police officers is not to ticket you until you hit 65. It's true that custom often binds our behavior more than law does. But, you won't find yourself paying a fine or having your will invalidated merely for violating a custom.

As far as the question of "what do we call people who come to the US without permission," it strikes me that a key turning point in policy debates is the language used — are they "illegal" or "undocumented"? Were the tax cuts "broad-based" or "for the rich"? So, when one side of a policy debate asks the other side to change its rhetoric, it's really just asking that other side to give up ground. It's a cheap ploy, but sometimes it works.

Why is "illegal immigrant" any worse than "thief," "burglar," "litterer," "speeder" or "cattle rustler"?

Don Boudreaux October 30, 2007 at 9:37 am

Chris,

My point is that custom is law — and much sensible law that is codified derives from custom. The two are not as distinct as we moderns typically think.

John Dewey October 30, 2007 at 9:59 am

Chris: "Why is "illegal immigrant" any worse than "thief," "burglar," "litterer," "speeder" or "cattle rustler"?"

A thief or a burglar or a cattle rustler intentionally takes another person's property, a criminal offense. An illegal immigrant is just offerring his labor in fair exchange for pay, a "crime" for which he is not subject to imprisonment.

Chris October 30, 2007 at 10:27 am

Don –

From a "what governs your behavior" point-of-view, I agree. As a lawyer, though, if somebody came to me complaining that they were pulled over for going 60 in a 55, I'd just laugh at them.

John –

Intentionally crossing the border without permission is also a criminal offense. Also, you're making a big assumption — what about the illegal immigrant who doesn't try to find a job (maybe a child or stay-at-home wife)?

Lee Kelly October 30, 2007 at 10:30 am

A thief or a burglar or a cattle rustler intentionally takes another person's property, a criminal offense. An illegal immigrant is just offerring his labor in fair exchange for pay, a "crime" for which he is not subject to imprisonment. – John Dewey

Of course, there are some who would claim that prohibited immigrants steal jobs, so from their perspective the derogatory title 'illegal immigrant' may seem entirely appropriate.

I do not mean to suggest that such a view is correct, and I do not agree with it. But to those that do think this true, the current terminology will likely seem a good description.

Regards

Rob Dawg October 30, 2007 at 10:38 am

And as a code word for racial and ethnic hatred, it is detestable.

Those of us who advocate expanded legal immigration and the uniform application of law have no desire to discuss the issue civilly with those who's argument is so weak that preemptively label any who disagree with their position racist and xenophobic.

I am prepared to offer sight unseen the professor a million dollars for his tie. Since the legality of the transaction is of no concern to him I will be writing a check and he will certainly not be asking for identification.

diz October 30, 2007 at 11:38 am

For the record, Martha Stewart was not convicted of illegal stock trading.

She was convicted of obstructing an investigation that did not result in any other convictions.

geoffrey October 30, 2007 at 11:49 am

On a recent Econ Talk, Don had this wonderful example on how custom is law. Basically on how common law is created. (I hope I do this justice from memory)

He gave an example of saving your seat in a lunch room cafeteria with your books. If that was the general custom for the school, codifying it as a specific rule of the cafeteria, makes things easier, reduces transaction costs of finding a seat, and reduces disputes.

If on the other hand, a rule was implemented that you could not save your seat with your books against the school custom, many would still attempt to do so. Transaction costs would increase, it would be harder to find a seat, and disputes would increase even with a specified rule that wasn’t there before.

The reason is that legislation is not law.

Chris October 30, 2007 at 11:53 am

There is, unfortunately, a fair bit of racism injected into the entire illegal immigration debate. And, unfortunately, sometimes it's hard to distinguish racist motives from non-racist motives. There is no doubt that illegal immigration imposes certain costs, yet it is often not PC to mention those.

For example, is a desire not to expend additional money on ESL instruction in schools racist? How about mention of the fact that some diseases (e.g. TB) are more prevalent in Mexico and Central American countries than in the US?

There's also the problem of crimes and torts caused by illegal aliens — what standard is used to judge them? Is saying "Well, they're no more likely to do X than an American" good enough? What if they're 10% more likely? What if some subset is 10% more likely, and another subset is 10% less likely?

John Dewey October 30, 2007 at 12:26 pm

chris: "Intentionally crossing the border without permission is also a criminal offense."

Residing in this country without authorization – the definition of illegal immigrant – is not a criminal offense. Our courts do not – and without some additional legislation cannot – imprison anyone for simply being in this nation without authorization. I think they can imprison anyone who has been deeported and returns.

Chris, I think you need to look up the legal definition of "criminal offense". it is not the same thing as "breaking a law".

Rob Dawg October 30, 2007 at 1:01 pm

For example [of blurred racism], is a desire not to expend additional money on ESL instruction in schools racist? How about mention of the fact that some diseases (e.g. TB) are more prevalent in Mexico and Central American countries than in the US?

Funny you should mention those two. My daughters' high school spends more for translation services than it would cost for a new laptop for every student every year.

Then there's the outbreaks of whooping cough and drug resistant TB that is costing our County millions to address. I remind everyone of those pictures of Ellis Island. Doctors and nurses and public health officers making the transition to America a safe and rational process.

Anyone who thinks any of the above are racist are themselves the racists.

Badger October 30, 2007 at 1:33 pm

I don't agree with Don. An illegal immigrant is not an innocent market do-gooder. Those are people that are actively breaking the law, jumping the line and directly and indirectly hurting the chances of other more deserving immigrants around the world. To make things worse, the majority of those illegal immigrants don't have a particularly high level of respect for the country's founding ideas and cultural and institutional traditions, including a tendency to strongly refuse libertarian values.
Even though I'm *highly in favor of immigration*, I think that, pragmatically speaking, immigration procedures have to abide to criteria of merit and appreciation of the country's values. Most illegal immigrants would rank at the bottom of the scale regarding these criteria, no matter the job market skill level in consideration. In other words, illegal immigration, due to the huge problems of adverse selection and twisted incentives that it engenders, is to me the worst of all possible immigration outcomes, sure worse than open borders and probably worse than no immigration at all.

faultolerant October 30, 2007 at 2:01 pm

Just because Dr. Boudreaux offers a more introspective picture of how laws and customs are created, and Lawrence Downes' little diatribe offers nothing but unadulterated emotion, the debate over illegal immigration marches on unchanged.

There are those who, almost reflexively, accuse those of us on the anti-illegal side of the debate of "racism, xenophobia, cruelty" et al, ad nauseum. Frankly, you could call me the Wizard of Oz and it won't change my mind. I don't care, one whit, of the nationality of an illegal. Mexicans, Canadians, Britons, Luxembourgers…doesn't matter to me: illegals are, by definition, illegal.

JohnDewey's ethically vacuous perspective that illegals are somehow "noble" and more "worthy" than native-born is the other side of the scale when it comes to lack of meaningful thought.

Frankly, I am unmoved by the current argument that laws are only laws when some arbitrary set of conditions are met. Yes, some laws are more "important" than others (to use a less-than-precise term). Speeding and jaywalking are less offensive "offenses" than rape, robbery and murder. I happen to believe that illegally entering – and remaining – in a country where you know you should not be is among the more serious offenses. JohnDewey and our esteemed hosts disagree.

I've read countless studies that say illegals are *good* for the country and others that say they're not. Frankly, after many years in business I'm well aware than one can torture the numbers to pretty much say anything you want – it just depends on the bias with which you enter the argument.

I've been conducting a *very* informal poll of the people with whom I work and socialize. I have YET to find anyone who's in favor of open borders or amnesty. In fact, most of the discussions have been directed toward greater border enforcement, deportation, punitive actions toward illegals and worse. Now, the people I interact with are average to upper-middle class, a range of races and education and, overall, decent people.

You can have all the ivory tower discussions you'd like about the "nobility" of illegals, how the term "illegal" is demeaning, or how open borders are in our best interests – whether we know it or not. I'm afraid you won't get much traction with many, many people.

Chris October 30, 2007 at 2:01 pm

John –

I would argue that the definition of "illegal immigrant" is "one who has immigrated to a country in violation of the laws thereof."

And, in fact, 8 U.S.C. 1226(a) says "On a warrant issued by the Attorney General, an alien may be arrested and detained pending a decision on whether the alien is to be removed from the United States." Sounds a lot like being imprisoned for being here without permission, although I will agree that it is technically not a criminal offense. In general, the American solution is to deport illegal immigrants, not put them in jail.

Henri Hein October 30, 2007 at 2:02 pm

"As a lawyer, though, if somebody came to me complaining that they were pulled over for going 60 in a 55, I'd just laugh at them."

What if the 55 limit was improperly designated or posted? What if the police officer mis-used his radar gun? What if the person in question was on the way to the ER with a bleeding patient?

John Dewey October 30, 2007 at 2:05 pm

badger: "the majority of those illegal immigrants don't have a particularly high level of respect for the country's founding ideas and cultural and institutional traditions"

Now that is amusing.

Spanish has been the primary language for a significant percentage of Texans for almost 500 years. Catholicism was the primary religion for most of what is now the southwestern U.S. for 350 of those 500 years. If there is anyone who has demonstrated lack of respect for cultural and institutional traditions it is certainly the conquering white Anglo-Americans.

French was the primary language for my south Louisiana homeland for nearly 250 years – until the Anglos ruled it to be illegal for children.

I think you are mistaken about the respect that Hispanic immigrants have for the country's founding ideas. It is the constitutional freedoms we enjoy that most of the immgrants risk their lives to obtain. Descendants of such immigrants – and in many cases the immigrants themselves – have long been overrepresented in the military which gives its lives to defend those constitutional freedoms.

John Dewey October 30, 2007 at 2:11 pm

chris: "Sounds a lot like being imprisoned for being here without permission"

It is not all the same as being imprisoned. In the first place, anyone accused of being in the U.S. without authorization is entitled to an immigration hearing. And then, as you pointed out, he or she may be deported. It is not your decision or Lou Dobb's decision or Tom Tancredo's decision, but the decision of an immigration judge about whether to deport someone here without authorization.

Again, whether you like it or not, being in the U.S. without authorization is not by itself a criminal offense. I ask that you stop misusing the term.

Henri Hein October 30, 2007 at 2:13 pm

"There's also the problem of crimes and torts caused by illegal aliens — what standard is used to judge them? "

Why should they be judged by a different standard than others?

In the event, immigrants tend to be less criminally inclined than stay-putters. See for instance:
http://www.reason.com/news/show/120759.html

…the belief that this group is prone to felonious habits is largely unfounded. Crime rates plummeted in the 1990s even as illegal immigration surged, and Harvard sociologist Robert Sampson has documented that "living in a neighborhood of concentrated immigration is directly associated with lower violence."

The evidence is surprising but clear: Foreign-born Hispanics are far less likely to end up in prison than native-born whites. They also have low divorce rates.

faultolerant October 30, 2007 at 2:16 pm

"It is the constitutional freedoms we enjoy that most of the immgrants risk their lives to obtain."

I'm afraid that statement is optimistic in the extreme. Most illegals who are here are, indeed, here solely for financial reasons, not some sentimental mush. If economic conditions in their home country/ies were better, they wouldn't be in the US.

faultolerant October 30, 2007 at 2:33 pm

"Again, whether you like it or not, being in the U.S. without authorization is not by itself a criminal offense."

That statement is a meritless splitting of hairs. While it *may* not be a criminal offense to BE here, the method by which someone IS here without official sanction is, indeed, a criminal offense.

Either the illegal in question overstayed an original permission to enter or entered the nation illegally from the start. So, while you're technically correct that BEING here may not be criminal, one may only BE here (illegally) by having committed a criminal offense.

"I ask that you stop misusing the term."

It sounds like the term "illegal" is correct, just not the way you like for it to be used. I ask that you start using the term. (Sarcasm intended)

SheetWise October 30, 2007 at 2:39 pm

"An illegal immigrant is just offerring his labor in fair exchange for pay, a 'crime' for which he is not subject to imprisonment."

There are many American laws that make exchanging labor for pay a crime — and they apply to Americans. Working or hiring someone without a valid SS#, not withholding taxes, not reporting wages, not meeting minimum wage requirements, not complying with OSHA regulations, not paying and/or providing workmans compensation insurance and unemployment benefits …

It's not like a mutual understanding or a private contract are sufficient for people to exchange labor for money. I think it should be — but it's not.

Per Kurowski October 30, 2007 at 3:28 pm

One issue that needs much discussion is whether society is well served by criminalizing behaviors that are the subject of any significant social sanction, as for instance in Intellectual Property Right matters hypocrisy is truly rampant.

Also, every time something is declared illegal or illicit by the society an economic feasibility study should be required, not only to see if we can afford the enforcement, or if the protected should have to pay for the protection, but also, much more important, that we do not stimulate those illicit markets to grow faster than our legal economies, as they could then turn into the more powerful and finally overcome us.

Chris October 30, 2007 at 3:28 pm

John -

Check out 8 USC 1306: "Any alien . . . who [fails to register] . . . shall be guilty of a misdemeanor." That sounds criminal to me.

To my knowledge, not many illegal aliens are brought up on section 1306 charges — it's just easier to deport them.

Patrick R. Sullivan October 30, 2007 at 4:21 pm

Look at Martha Stewart, illegal stock trader…

No, she wasn't. She was an illegal talker…about a legal stock trade.

Dr. Troy Camplin October 30, 2007 at 5:05 pm

I think that you are right that laws (all laws in general, including laws of the universe) emerge from the interactions of the elements of the system. With humans, it is interactions within a social system that first give rise to custom-laws, which then develop into government-laws. Government laws are written down codes that have developed in the society at large. Nobody is actually inventing new laws ex nihilo, but rather observe laws emerging, then give then a name. I think this is an incredible important point, perhaps more important than you really realize.

Badger October 30, 2007 at 7:35 pm

Henri Hein: I'm sorry to let you know you that there's no connection between your historical tale and the values of current illegal immigrants. In particular since I'm myself a Latino that lived both in South Texas and Latin America for many years. I think I know well what I'm talking about.

Badger October 30, 2007 at 8:46 pm

Correction: my response above regards a John Dewey post. Sorry Henri Hein!

P Jones October 30, 2007 at 9:29 pm

After reading the comments posted here, I'm wondering if maybe the differing opinions may indeed have something to do with how people perceive the illegality in question. People who perceive it as a violation of 'law' are upset because of their expectations of legal borders and national sovereignty. Haven't these expectations of consented entry evolved from centuries old common law? On the other hand, people who see the benefits to society from the free flow of labor (as I do) have probably had their expectations change from the more traditional one. We may view the problem as one of restrictive 'legislation'. Although we may try to change each others minds, until we realize what perspective the other is applying, conflict and diappointed expectations will occur. By the way…great podcast on law and legislation at EconTalk

Mesa Econoguy October 30, 2007 at 9:45 pm

Young lady, in this house, we obey the laws of thermodynamics!

- Homer Simpson [to Lisa, after she builds a perpetual motion machine during a teachers’ strike, and incorrectly exclaims “At this rate, I won’t get into Vassar!” ]

Mesa Econoguy October 30, 2007 at 9:48 pm

Correction:

Look at Martha Stewart, illegal stock trader…
No, she wasn't. She was an illegal talker…about a legal stock trade.
Wrong.

She was a previously licensed broker. Whatever opinion you have about Series 7 licensing, she had foreknowledge of a potentially illegal insider transaction and should have known better.

Wes Johnson October 30, 2007 at 10:12 pm

"Much law (I would argue most law) emerges spontaneously in the course of multitudes of human interactions and is never — or only after the fact — written down in a statute book."

Statutes and regulations are only one way for law to come into being of course. There is also common law (from judges) and a very broad license that individuals have to make their own law, through contracts. It may be true that some customs are a sort of proto-law, but only a very very few of them are annointed as real law by judges, legislatures or contracting parties.

But whether law emerges from customs or not is really irrelevant to your argument. Customs aren't laws even assuming arguendo that laws emerge from custom.

There just isn't any doubt that, in fact, it is "illegal" to enter the country except through certain designated methods.

I think a great case could be made for expanding legal immigration. I would be in favor of it. But whatever the rules for immigration are, those who ignore them have a disregard for clear and unambiguous law that is more consequential than a minor infraction like parking.

Flash Gordon October 30, 2007 at 10:35 pm

And as a code word for racial and ethnic hatred, [illegal immigration] is detestable.

I find that statement detestable.

I also don't believe that Hayek was referring to criminals repeatedly getting away with criminal acts as constituting the sort of custom that becomes law. At least as to acts that are an affront to a nation's sovereignty.

Those who favor open borders can simply convince a sufficient number of their fellow countrymen that it is a good idea and then have it enacted into legislation. That would be preferable to the subterfuge of language and what sounds like a stretch of Hayek's thesis of law, legislation and morality.

Gil October 30, 2007 at 10:53 pm

Thanks Dr. Camplin and W. Johnson in going back to the original theme of the discussion. D. Boudreaux was talking about 'common law' versus 'statutory law'. The broad simple definition goes to the tune of 'common law is where villagers and tribal folk agree upon on what is acceptable and what isn't and presumably enforcement is pretty simple and involves a judge who is little more than a local arbitrator' versus 'statutory law is where law are enacted by high officials in a large society which usually has no input from the people and has a complex legal system'.

I presume this notion goes to the tune that 'common law' is Libertarian-minded and natural whereas 'statutory law' is Statist and artificial at best or evil at worst. Though another way of looking at it is that 'common law' is the polite code of behaviour between people who are pretty much equal in social standing (villagers agreeing in what is fair and unfair conduct to a fellow villager) versus those of hierarchies (those who own a large estate get to make rules of conduct on those who want to rent a portion of the estate and if the rentees don't like it they can 'git out!').

jmklein October 30, 2007 at 10:55 pm

Government laws are such a myth, its such a myth they can cage or even kill you for violating them.

Government laws are more real then unwritten laws because of the monopolistic violence behind them. A rose called by any other name… the difference should be more obvious than the word.

libfree October 31, 2007 at 1:45 am

It's such a volatile issue and I I've only had good experiences dealing with the illegal immigrant community. I can't help returning to the issue that we are a nation of laws. I will not abide people breaking our laws even as I work to change them. I am no fan of protectionism or socialism. I donate as much as I can, where I can. I spend many hours trying to convince people of the value of immigration and free trade. Where the convictions of our immigrant friends so strong, they might not need to come here in the first place.

vidyohs October 31, 2007 at 7:15 am

Gil,
In this:

"I presume this notion goes to the tune that 'common law' is Libertarian-minded and natural whereas 'statutory law' is Statist and artificial at best or evil at worst. Though another way of looking at it is that 'common law' is the polite code of behaviour between people who are pretty much equal in social standing (villagers agreeing in what is fair and unfair conduct to a fellow villager) versus those of hierarchies (those who own a large estate get to make rules of conduct on those who want to rent a portion of the estate and if the rentees don't like it they can 'git out!').

Posted by: Gil | Oct 30, 2007 10:53:22 PM"

You put the left wing slant on the facts. While your postulation of how common law developed is ok, your slant that common law is strictly local while statutory law is foreign to the community is false.

Common law becomes statutory law when codified by government.

And, unfortunately, every single form of human society has always developed its elites who can and do take advantage of both common law and statutory law. Furthermore those elites can only do so by carefully enculturating the people to kneejerk obey the law. In practical terms it can be seen that there was not a whole lot of difference in the comfort level of Roosevelt and Stalin. More a reason to fear and distrust government then to seek more of it.

John Dewey October 31, 2007 at 8:23 am

libfree: "Where the convictions of our immigrant friends so strong, they might not need to come here in the first place."

I think you underestimate the difficulty a Mexican worker would face in trying to change his outcome in his own land.

An unskilled Mexican worker can live a long impoverished life trying to change his fate in his native land. Or he can pay someone to smuggle him across an undefended border, into a rich nation in need of unskilled workers. The illegal immigrant will find thousands of employers eager to put him to work. He plays the odds – pretty good ones – that he can remain in the U.S. long enough to accumulate the ten years employment that will often qualify him to stay permanently.

Make no mistake about this: the illegal immigrant is giving up his homeland, giving up access to friends and family, and giving up the freedom to participate fully in eityher nation. It takes both courage and conviction to make that choice.

If the critics of illegal immigrants were faced with that choice, most would take it. They can rant all they wish about the "criminality" of the illegal immigrant. But faced with the choice of breaking an unenforced law or subjecting their families to poverty for all their lives, they would also find a way across the border.

Flash Gordon October 31, 2007 at 9:37 am

Gil's definition of the common law is in error. It was never the customs of the people that established the common law. The common law developed over time through the decisions of courts in actual cases that came before it. It was based upon looking to past decided cases to see if a case similar to the one now before the court could be found and, if so, to make every effort to decide the present case on the same basis. Justice was thought to inhere in the principle that similar facts should produce similar results.

To the extent the customs of the people were considered relevant it was to look to the established customs in a particular industry or other human endeavor as an aid to interpretation of contracts.

Flash Gordon October 31, 2007 at 9:45 am

The English Common Law became the law of the United States when the Republic was founded. All criminal law in the U.S. was therefore originally based upon English Common Law. That was never exclusive. Parliament enacted written laws as early as 1215 to restrain King John.

In all states of the United States today the common law of crimes is abolished, although some states retain common law defenses. All states today have statutes that say no conduct shall be a crime unless prohibited by a statute enacted by the legislature. No judge, and no custom of the people, can establish anything to be a crime or to not be a crime.

Most states have de-criminalized minor traffic infractions such as speeding and treat them as civil matters.

Flash Gordon October 31, 2007 at 9:49 am

When a police officer lets you off for doing 60 in a 55 zone, it is not because it is "the law" that he let you off. It is because police have a certain amount of discretion of when, where and whether to enforce the law.

Under certain circumstances you will get a ticket for going 68 in a 65 zone and you will be found guilty if you take it to trial (a civil trial).

Bruce Hall October 31, 2007 at 9:51 am

Every day, thousands of people cross between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. There seems to be a process that is considered legal and it is customary to follow that process… millions do so each year.

So, the question becomes, if it is not illegal to cross through other than established border points where documentation and inspection of personal property takes, why do so many "visitors" risk their lives and fortunes crossing at other border points?

Isn't it simpler and cheaper to pay for proper documentation and cross the border through established processes than avoiding those processes? Of course it is.

So the only reason for not crossing at established points with proper documentation is because the purpose of that alternative approach is to remain in the U.S. illegally. The value of "custom" plays no part in this equation.

If you think this is not the case, examine the penalties for entering other countries through other than established processes.

Flash Gordon October 31, 2007 at 9:57 am

It's true that customs can become legislation, but that's not always a good thing, e.g., medical marijuana laws.

Rob Dawg October 31, 2007 at 10:16 am

Bruce Hall makes an excellent point. The custom of knocking on the door and being invited in does not establish the custom of breaking and entering. If we wish to adjust our customs vis border crossings then the advocates had best consider the customs our neighbor to the south has for dealing with their southern borders. While I would not sit still for US soldiers machine gunning suspected border runners that is part of their custom. I'll take the rule of law, even imperfect law, over the slippery slope the unregulated border advocates are sliding down by suggesting the adoption of custom as acceptable policy.

TLWP Sam October 31, 2007 at 10:46 am

Eh. I s'pose you vidyohs would point out something "government shouldn't have the right to own land, makes rules, let alone tell anyone to "love it or leave it". Yet governments are more-or-less descendants of Monarchies who happened to be large-scale private property owners. Some Libbers have whined that "well most Monarchies used force to obtain those lands". Even so, they are still the private owners and have the right to their own property (doubly so if they acquired the land through market transactions) and who to let in and generally make their own rules. Likewise many a Libber has argued against the existence of trade unions in that workers are guests on the employer's turf and must abide by the rules and if they don't like it they can find an employer who is more agreeable to them but to strike and cause disruption amounts to vandalism.

Gil October 31, 2007 at 11:18 am

Dammit wrong pseudonym again! >:(

tiger October 31, 2007 at 11:22 am

Don, Nice try

faultolerant October 31, 2007 at 12:04 pm

"I think you underestimate the difficulty a Mexican worker would face in trying to change his outcome in his own land."

I think you underestimate people who disagree with you.

"An unskilled Mexican worker can live a long impoverished life trying to change his fate in his native land."

So what? That's true regardless of which side of the border you live on, or which border is being discussed.

"Or he can pay someone to smuggle him across an undefended border, into a rich nation in need of unskilled workers."

True. But how is it relevant? How does it make the illegal act less illegal?

"The illegal immigrant will find thousands of employers eager to put him to work. He plays the odds – pretty good ones – that he can remain in the U.S. long enough to accumulate the ten years employment that will often qualify him to stay permanently."

Just because someone commits a crime for 10 years does not obviate or somehow "forgive" the criminal act. And just because the illegal can find co-conspirators does not, again, change the criminality of his individual actions.

"Make no mistake about this: the illegal immigrant is giving up his homeland, giving up access to friends and family, and giving up the freedom to participate fully in eityher nation."

No, you're mistaken here. The illegal makes a choice in order to improve his income. This is a financial decision and nothing more.

"It takes both courage and conviction to make that choice."

Again, you're mistaken. It takes greed – pure and simple – to make the choice. "Courage" and "Conviction" are not a function of this equation. This is a financial decision – full stop. When you consider all the things your beloved illegal is foregoing, the financial draw is mighty strong but let's not conflate your rosy view of the illegal as being "noble, courageous or filled with conviction". They aren't. They're here for the money. If the money wasn't here they wouldn't be either.

You attribute all sorts of wonderful emotions to illegals – none of which is supportable and then assert that they're some sort of uber-class of workers. Take the mush out of your arguments and make one of consequence. Nobility and courage are not adjectives which describe the current discussion.

"If the critics of illegal immigrants were faced with that choice, most would take it."

Possibly, but how is this relevant? What others may or may not do has no bearing on what SHOULD be done.

"They can rant all they wish about the "criminality" of the illegal immigrant."

Thank you for allowing those who disagree with you the right to actually express themselves. Deigning to allow us the First Amendment is awfully kind of you.

"But faced with the choice of breaking an unenforced law or subjecting their families to poverty for all their lives, they would also find a way across the border"

Again, so what? How does this perspective change the current discussion?

Bill October 31, 2007 at 2:30 pm

Tickets are written for jay-walking and going five over. People can be and are arrested for these infractions as well.

Saying customs are more powerful than laws is not a rigorous statement. Yes, you will see more people speeding than eating with their fingers in a restaraunt. That being said, when you get arrested or someone says that they actually own your home, you call a lawyer or the police, not Ms. Manners.

I understand that you desire more open immigration, as I do. I do not understand your inability to acknowledge that breaking a law, an important and rational one, is generally bad.

I also do not understand your apparent disdain for anyone who considers the issue and concludes that imigration laws, as they are now on the books, should be enforced.

Finally, the idea that the unthinking masses are only being whipped into a frenzy by terminology is patronizing. Do you really think "undocumented" or "illegal" makes a real difference in what people think? Terminology is simply part of the argument, as all pro-choice and pro-life people know.

Henri Hein October 31, 2007 at 4:03 pm

"Isn't it simpler and cheaper to pay for proper documentation and cross the border through established processes than avoiding those processes?"

Wrong on both counts. For dishwashers and tomatoe pickers, there is no such process.

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