Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Why illegal immigration is not simple...

The case of Dan-el Padilla Peralta is a classic reason why. However, the Media Research Center, while highlighting the transcripts in claiming bias on this issue - instead has shown that this is not a simple issue. You see, the NBC Nightly News report brings up a fact that provides a lot of relevance to this debate: Peralta was brought over here from the Dominican Republic when he was four years old.

Peralta's attorney is seeking a waiver - but it is being opposed in the name of the "rule of law", because some fear it will "set a precedent", like the Federation for American Immigration Reform's Ira Mehlman:

We can't make exceptions for people who break the law simply because they happen to be geniuses.

Good grief, Mr. Mehlman, he was four years old when his parents brought him over! There is no way he could really control things at that age. And what would you have him do at this point?

If there is a case to grant a waiver, to cut someone some slack, this sort of thing is it. In fact, why else would the authority to grant waivers (as in this case involving Burmese refugees) be out there unless those who created the authority recognized from day one that following the letter of the law was not appropriate in certain cases?

In fact, such mindless enforcement of environmental laws is regularly condemned by conservative groups (see here for one listing of victims of environmental laws and regulations). In one case, there was a clear lack of intent:

Taung Ming-Lin, a Taiwanese immigrant, bought land in Kern County, California on which he planned to grow Chinese vegetables for sale to southern California's Asian community. Lin says the county told him the land was already zoned for farming and that no permit was needed.

When Lin began farming, his tractor allegedly disturbed the habitat of the endangered Tipton Kangaroo Rat. It is also alleged that Lin's tractor ran over some of the rats. As a result, Lin was charged with federal civil and criminal violations of the Endangered Species Act.

Or, take the case of Bobby Unser, from that report's introduction:

My story began in December 1996 when I went snowmobiling with a friend in the New Mexico countryside. We were recreating in the Rio Grande National Forest which thousands of other snowmobilers have done and continue to do so today. There is no law prohibiting snowmobiling in the national forest. But then without warning, in the middle of our trip, a fierce ground blizzard occurred. Winds of 60-70 miles per hour stirred up so much snow you could barely see in front of you. My friend, inexperienced in the operation of a snowmobile, soon got stuck in the snow and got on the back of mine. But, in attempting to escape I too got lost in the whirling storm or "whiteout" as it is commonly called. Our situation got even more desperate when my snowmobile broke down. With night falling and the temperature dropping, I knew we would have to find shelter if we were to survive. That night, we stayed in a snow cave we dug ourselves. The next day we began walking in search of help and after 18 hours of trudging through the wilderness we located a barn where we called for help.

My friend and I had to be hospitalized for exposure and I still suffer from the effects of spending the night in the brutal cold. However, we were both grateful to be alive and thankful that our ordeal was over. But as it turned out, it wasn't over. Soon after I left the hospital, the United States Forest Service charged me with illegally taking my snowmobile into a federally-designated wilderness area where such machinery is prohibited. They threatened me with a $5,000 fine and/or a six-month jail sentence. I was stunned. My friend and I were literally driving in circles desperately trying to save our lives. The last thing on our minds was whether we were illegally entering a wilderness area. Worse, the Forest Service didn't even know if I had in fact entered a wilderness area.

Is Dan-el Padilla Peralta any less of a person - a human being - than Bobby Unser or Taung Ming-Lin? Ultimately, that is the kind of question that needs to be answered by conservatives. If conservatives really believe the answer is yes, then it speaks very poorly for conservatism. If they believe the answer is no, then why are they unwilling to deal with the victims of immigration law in a fair and just manner?

This is why I'm finding the conservative position on immigration so hard to comprehend - and extremely hypocritical. It is also why I cannot find the words that can describe my resentment at being labeled a "Quisling" for wanting a comprehensive solution instead of an approach that only promotes the mindless enforcement of the letter of a law that may be broken beyond repair.

Conservatives are facing a moment of truth. So far, they seem determined to flunk the test.

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