Immigrants broke the law, should we allow them to stay?
This is another frequently asked question about comprehensive immigration reform. It is answered by Justice for Immigrants here.
Opponents of immigration use the argument, “they broke the law,” as a way of combating any proposals that provide legal status to undocumented immigrants. They also say that the United States should not be “rewarding lawbreakers,” and such phrases as “what part of illegal do you not understand?” Their intent is to stop any discussion of why these persons are outside the law, what consequences or harm come to the United States because of this circumstance, and whether the law they broke is just or in the best interest of the United States and should be changed. In using these arguments, they also imply that undocumented immigrants, being outside the law, are criminals.
The first response is to answer the why and harm questions. Migrants and their families, largely, enter the United States to survive by finding jobs. Once they cross the U.S.-Mexico border, 80 percent find employment. Their intent is not to harm the United States, but simply to work and, by doing so,they help our country and the economy. So, because they come here to work and they help our nation by doing so, we must ask whether current immigration law, which causes them to hide in the shadows and offers them no protections, is just in the first place.
Moreover, the availability of visas to enter the country through legal channels to either work or reunite with family members are severely limited and do not come close to meeting labor market demands. While the Church supports the rule of law, there are times when laws should be examined through a justice lens and be changed. In many ways, the current immigration system is broken and contributes to the abuse, exploitation, and even deaths of migrants who otherwise contribute their work and talents to our nation. While undocumented immigrants are indeed outside the law, and thus “break” the law, the unjust, outdated, and inadequate law also breaks them. Our nation cannot have it both ways.
Moreover, undocumented immigrants are not criminals—they have not broken a criminal law. They have only violated civil law, as we do when we violate a traffic ordinance. The United States Supreme Court has held that “a deportation proceeding is a purely civil action to determine the eligibility to remain in this country, not to punish an unlawful entry….The purpose of deportation is not to punish past transgressions, but to put an end to a continuing violation of immigration laws.”