Law and Order: DTN (Defending the Nation)

We're going to play a little quiz game. Which famous world leaders made which of the following statements? (I have omitted some specific words that would give away the speakers' idendities.) Read the answers in the comments to this post.

A. "The streets of our country are in turmoil. The universities are filled with students rebelling and rioting. [ ]s are seeking to destroy our country. [ ] is threatening us with her might. And the republic is in danger. Yes! danger from within and without. We need law and order! Without law and order our nation cannot survive."

B. "On the streets of major cities, crowds have rallied.... At our [ ] border, others have organized to stop [ ]s from coming in.... We're a nation of laws, and we must enforce our laws."

The detached and misunderstood worship of The Law has served as a central rallying point for the anti-illegal-immigration camps. "We are a nation of laws" is a great tag line for the anti-immigration horror film propagandized by those who want to shut the borders before the swarming locusts have covered us from head to toe and decimated our civilization, devouring us from within and without. And it has trickled down into the mouths of many:

"'It's turned into a problem now that's almost unmanageable,'" said Fred Swafford, 65, a retired plant manager, over breakfast at Andy's, a restaurant just off Interstate 30. "'We are a nation of laws, and you cannot ignore those basic laws.'"

Swafford speaks in an article in The LA Times about the support undocumented workers have received from their new neighbors in Arkadelphia, Ark.

And Swafford's is an argument I've heard time and again: Anyone who breaks a law is a criminal by nature and does not deserve consideration. It's a shame that all those people waste all that time, effort, and money studying law when the whole thing is so simple. (And, in response to Swafford, I doubt many legal experts would really include overstaying a visa or crossing without documents as a violation of our "basic" laws.)

Howard Zinn makes these points much better than I in this excerpt from Declarations of Independence:

"But the dominant ideology leaves no room for making intelligent and humane distinctions about the obligation to obey the law. It is stern and absolute. It is the unbending rule of every government, whether Fascist, Communist, or liberal capitalist. Gertrude Scholtz-Klink, chief of the Women's Bureau under Hitler, explained to an interviewer after the war the Jewish policy of the Nazis, 'We always obeyed the law. Isn't that what you do in America? Even if you don't agree with a law personally, you still obey it. Otherwise life would be chaos.'

"'Life would be chaos.' If we allow disobedience to law we will have anarchy. That idea is inculcated in the population of every country. The accepted phrase is "law and order." ....

"It is a phrase that has appeal for most citizens, who, unless they themselves have a powerful grievance against authority, are afraid of disorder."

And that fear causes a willful blindness to the complicated nature of the law and its relationship with our complicated and ever-changing society. It's easier and much more comforting to draw one line in the sand and stand rigidly on your chosen side, sticking to your guns while keeping it simple. But that's not our world: Answering Swafford in the LAT article -- and dominating the piece's focus -- are people like Arkadelphia resident Debbie Kluck:

"'To me, the raid [on undocumented workers at the Petit Jean Poultry plant] was foolish,'" Debbie Kluck said. "'What was the purpose of the raid? It appears to be more of a political ploy to make people look like they're doing a great job. For us, it kind of backfired.'"

It seems that many native born USians in Arkansas -- including the state's Republican Governor, a Democratic Senator, the county sheriff, and the county prosecutor -- have voiced their unhappiness with the recent raid which resulted in the deportations of 112 people. And many have gone out of their ways to help those arrested -- even going so far, in one case, as to assist in financing their coyote for the return trip. (The article claims 60 percent of those deported after the raid have already returned. Those are our tax dollars at work.)

One of the seven people detained but not arrested -- a woman who came to the USA fleeing a violent husband and who has lived here and raised her children here for 13 years -- now relies on food assistance, Medicaid, and the generosity of neighbors to support herself and her three U.S.-citizen children because she's not allowed to work while her case is pending. So, because she's in the legal system now, this woman is on federal aid, which she wasn't before. But her living outside the law created disorder, right? Complicated.

The LAT adds:

"'Our first priority should be to secure our borders,' [Gov.] Huckabee said in an e-mail to The Times. 'I'm less threatened by people who cross the line to make beds, pick tomatoes or pluck chickens' than by potential terrorists crossing the border."

What a novel point. Zinn continues:

"Surely, peace, stability, and order are desirable. Chaos and violence are not. But stability and order are not the only desirable conditions of social life. There is also justice, meaning the fair treatment of all human beings, the equal right of all people to freedom and prosperity. Absolute obedience to law may bring order temporarily, but it may not bring justice. And when it does not, those treated unjustly may protest, may rebel, may cause disorder, as the American revolutionaries did in the eighteenth century, as antislavery people did in the nineteenth century, as Chinese students did in this century, and as working people going on strike have done in every country, across the centuries."

So, to those who deride the mass demonstrations for immigrant rights as the anarchic rioting of criminals, maybe it's okay that allies of the undocumented take to the streets -- in an orderly fashion as they have -- to demand their rights. More than okay, it may even be American.


Blogger Jeremy Goren said...

If you guessed that B. came from the mouth of Pres. George W. Bush in his May 15 address on immigration, you’d be right. But did you guess that A. leapt from the lips of none other than Adolph Hitler in 1932? My point here is not to illuminate similarities between Pres. Bush and Hitler but rather to draw attention to a faulty line of thinking -- or not thinking -- and to illustrate just how perilous that is. And I hope that this serves as a bit of a reality check as we debate punitive changes in our laws and debate how much unchecked power our leader should have in ordering secret surveillance of citizens and the torture of alleged members of The Enemy.

9:52 PM, July 23, 2006  

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