In this article, Mr. Erler argues that amnesty is a misplaced comapssion towards 'aliens' and it is anti-constitutional as well. But he does not raise the question if the constitution is amendable or not?
Amnesty is Misplaced Compassion
By Edward J. Erler
During last week's marathon trip to Latin America President
George Bush failed to deliver to Mexico's president Vicente
Fox a long-promised gift - a signed and sealed illegal
immigrant amnesty bill. The proposal would provide amnesty
for hundreds of thousands of aliens who have overstayed
their visas and are residing illegally in the United States.
Before September 11, an amnesty bill appeared to be a
certainty. Bush touted it as an act of compassion toward
Mexico, an act that could only lead to better relations
with our southern neighbors. Fox, of course, has a strong
interest in the amnesty bill. Immigration to the U.S.
provides Mexico with a much needed outlet for Mexico's
desperate and malcontent poor. Illegal alien workers also
provide much needed revenue for the Mexican economy,
sending billions of dollars each year back to Mexico.
Amnesty is well designed to help cover for Fox's dismal
economic performance, particularly his failure to create
the hundreds of thousands of jobs he promised.
At the same time, Mexico is making extraordinary efforts to
seal its southern borders with Guatemala and Belize.
Mexico clearly recognizes the dangers to its internal
politics and economy posed by illegal immigration from its
southern neighbors - no compassion there.
September's terrorist acts, however, taught Americans - or
so it seemed - that illegal immigration should not be
treated casually. Indeed, strident calls for tightening
the border were heard from all quarters. And, for all
intents and purposes, the border with Mexico was closed for
a short period with remarkable effects on the flow of
illegal aliens as well as illegal drugs.
Another amnesty, such as the one that occurred in 1986,
will certainly be a spur to more illegal immigration. If
there have been two amnesties who can doubt that there will
be more? These bad precedents will create bad habits.
Indeed they already have.
Amnesty for illegal aliens is simply a reward for law
breaking. No system depending on a strict regard for the
rule of law can treat law-breaking so lightly. This is
particularly true when those who are attempting to enter
the country legally are forced to wait years and undergo
massive bureaucratic battles. Amnesty is something we
should always regard with deep suspicion because it excuses
law-breakers. Amnesty is appropriate only when it serves
the dignity of the law. When the law, contrary to its
intent, has worked an injustice, amnesty might be an
appropriate remedy. But when amnesty is used merely to
excuse law-breaking or for cynical political purposes it
directly undermines the rule of law.
Some years ago the Congress considered a bill that would
have withdrawn birth-right citizenship for children born to
illegal alien parents. When the Fourteenth Amendment was
passed in 1868 it defined American citizenship for the
first time. It included all who were born or naturalized
in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction of the
United States. It was widely understood at the time that
Indians would not become citizens by the operation of the
Fourteenth Amendment because they owed allegiance to their
tribes and therefore did not fall under the United
States' "jurisdiction" - which means not just legal
obligations and protections, but also a patriotic
attachment to the Constitution and founding principles of
Thus Indians born in the United States did not become
citizens by that fact alone. Today, we confer
automatically on the children of illegal aliens a status
that was refused to Native Persons. How we came to hold
this view is something of a mystery to constitutional
scholars since there is no Supreme Court case on point.
Indians became citizens when laws were passed by Congress
bringing them within the jurisdiction of the United
States. Congress could pass similar laws excluding
children of illegal aliens from automatic citizenship,
thereby depriving illegal aliens of a powerful incentive to
break American laws.
Latino leaders in the Democratic party complained that
Bush's amnesty plan and his much publicized trip to Latin
America were merely cynical ploys to curry favor with
Latino voters. The vehemence of the Democratic response
indicates that they may be concerned that Bush is
succeeding. The Democratic response may itself be too
cynical. Whether cynical or not, the idea that amnesty is
an act of compassion is certainly misplaced.
Edward J. Erler is a senior fellow of the Claremont
Institute and professor of political science at Cal. State
university of bristol
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