1.29.2007

Laws Before Justice in Herndon

Stephen J. DeBenedittis, the mayor of Herndon, Va., a DC suburb with a huge population of immigrants, particularly from El Salvador, published a letter in The Washington Post this past Sunday to declare his respect for the "rule of law" and his willingness to embrace legal immigrants into his community. Since taking office Mr. DeBenedittis has moved forward several measures similar to those springing up in towns across the nation, intended to deter the undocumented from settling in these communities.

He writes: "This does not mean we are unwelcoming to immigrants, nor does it mean we are against any ethnic group. It means that we respect and seek to follow the law of the land."

Yet, Mr. DeBenedittis then contradicts himself, saying, "Workable, enforceable reforms to immigration laws and policies must be enacted."

In doing so, he exposes the contradiction inherent in deriding undocumented immigrants for not respecting the established "rule of law" while at the same time calling for changes in that "rule", in order to deter or punish the undocumented. If, as the mayor claims, illegality is the problem and not the immigrants themselves and he's willing to make new laws in this arena as he's shown by his initiatives, then why not encourage change in the laws of admission to the USA, making them more permissive and therefore more in step with the realities of immigration, and enforce them justly? This way, Mr. DeBenedittis would have more legal immigrants to welcome into his town, which he claims to be so keen to do.

No, this "law of the land" rhetoric seems either false-hearted or misplaced. Respect for the law should be tempered by a sense that the law exists to serve the cause of justice, not to serve itself. Otherwise, were our judges this forthright, we might witness more of this backwards occurrence, described in Billy Bragg's song "Rotting on Remand":

"I said there is no justice
As they led me out of the door.
And the Judge said, 'This isn't a court of justice, son.
This is a court of law.'"

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2 Comments:

Anonymous deblist said...

a humble yet defiant response to Mayor DeBenedittis's question ("Is it asking too much to require people to obey the law and enter the country legally? "): ABSOLUTELY.

espcially when we are talking about the Salvadoran population that makes up a large part of the Herndon immigrant community. not only are there slim to no options for Salvadorans to enter to U.S. legally, but the U.S. doesnt have much moral grounding on which to be asking anything of the Salvadoran people, seeing as this month commemorates the 15 year anniversary of a U.S.-backed 12-year civil war in El Salvador that left over 75,000 dead and caused much more physical, economic, and psychological damage. see another Washington Post article, this one from today's front page: www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/01/28/AR2007012801353.htm

5:16 PM, January 29, 2007  
Blogger Jeremy Goren said...

Ms. List reminds us of an important line of thought so often ignored in discussions over immigration. The pro-enforcement crowd likes to crow that violating any part of immigration regulations indicates some kind of immorality that makes the immigrant unfit to stay in this country. Yet, what about our moral responsibility as a nation to help people whose lives we have actively destroyed? People whom we've forced to flee towards other shores?

Our political, monetary, and material support of the oppressive, undemocratic dictatorship in El Salvador, of the Nicaraguan contra militias attempting to overthrow a government, of a millitary coup against an elected Chilean president and subsequent support of a murderous right-wing dictatorship there...the list, as they say, goes on from there. We have made plenty of messes before Iraq that we have not helped to repair.

And we often have founded our immigration policies on convenient politics rather than morals -- or reason. For instance, despite our hand in the turmoil in El Salvador, we have tried to keep our doors shut to citizens of that country, while we have accepted almost every Cuban who touched our shores because we opposed the ideology of that country's government. Enough of our policies are such relics of the Cold War that we can hardly term them even politically advantageous -- at least in the ways they were when first enacted.

The distinction Mr. DeBenedittis -- and the immigration debate as a whole -- refuses to make is line between economic refugees and political ones. Our laws claim to embrace the latter and not the former. This means that if you find yourself in danger because of your political beliefs, our laws should grant you refugee. If you're simply poor, then too bad. Those Salvadorans who fled the civil war should have been accepted as political refugees. They did not come to, you know, pick lettuce. Now one could argue that the war has ended, so they should go home. There is no more political danger. But what of the continuing economic effects of the war? Isn't the economic decimation in which we participated cause enough to allow legal entry to those suffering from it?

11:35 AM, January 30, 2007  

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