Treating illegal immigrants like we did runaway slaves

May 04, 2010|By Nicholas Blendy

With the immigration issue front and center after the passage of Arizona's law, representatives from both parties, such as Rep. Jared Polis, Democrat of Colorado, and Connie Mack, Republican of Florida, have denounced it, likening this law to something the Reichstag might have passed. But invoking Nazism seems, to me, a distraction.

Historical evidence teaches us we can quickly resolve the issue of identifying and adjudicating millions of controversial people in our midst; Congress merely needs to enact a law containing the following 10 points:

1. This law must empower and direct our federal courts to enforce the federal immigration laws already on the books.

2. The large estimate of people living in the shadows requires the law authorize the appointment of commissioners to handle the administrative matters like taking affidavits and depositions, for example, resulting from an increase in caseloads.

3. The federal circuit courts should be pre-authorized to hire more commissioners and acquire additional space to house these suspected unauthorized immigrants, to ensure the process is not delayed in appropriations red tape.

4. These commissioners should be authorized with the same authority as immigration judges in handling deportation proceedings, which should increase the efficiency of the process.

5. The law must require all police and peace officers to enforce the laws already on the books, and if they are unwilling they should be fined and fired for not doing their jobs. After all, all good citizens should aid and assist in the prompt and efficient execution of enforcing immigration law.

6. Since the problem of forged and false documents is to be expected, judges should only consider evidence sworn under oath from U.S. citizen witnesses. Moreover, since these immigrants broke the law in the first place when crossing the border, judges ought not consider any testimony by these immigrants; this would additionally cut costs by limiting the need for translators.

7. Anyone who knowingly and willingly obstructs, hinders or prevents the enforcement of this new law should be subject to a fine of $1,000 and, in severe cases, be subject to prison sentences. We have to get tough and serious on this issue.

8. We should authorize new deputies and marshals to aid in enforcement and pay these bounty hunters for their service. This should be an especially popular provision given our high level of unemployment.

9. We need to ensure that we deport these immigrants to their correct countries and not just dump them over the Rio Grande. We are civilized, you know.

10. Finally, we need to ensure the American people are compensated for any and all government benefits or services such immigrants can be shown to have used while in our borders. Fair is fair, after all.

I am confident many would support such a law as the one above. After all, it was quite a popular "compromise" among the people when the law I modeled it after — the Fugitive Slave Act — passed in 1850. This said, I am also confident I would not be alone protesting such a law should it ever be seriously considered.

We should not delude ourselves; demonization of minority groups and the desire to turn one's society and country into a police state are not characteristics unique to Nazi Germany; ample precedent for enacting such laws exists within our own history. Just as the country was ripped apart by the forces that drove passage of the Fugitive Slave Act, Arizona's new law — ostensibly targeting illegal immigrants, but all Latinos in reality — has opened a new American rift.

I do not mean to equate living in the shadows and fear of deportation with slavery, but the parallel between slave-catchers requesting freedom papers and police asking for documents seems apt enough in my mind, given the complexions of those directly impacted by both laws. I would hope in the 160 years since the Fugitive Slave Act became the law of the land that our country would not treat human beings — even those who have broken our laws — as less than human. But with Arizona's new law being passed, and similar laws proposed in other states, including Maryland, I fear the more things have changed, the more they remain the same.

Nicholas Blendy is a Baltimore attorney and treasurer of the Maryland Immigrant Rights Coalition. His e-mail is nblendy@gmail.com.

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