Immigration, a worse crime than child sex exploitation

Post by John Lee (regular blogger for the site, joined October 2012). See:

I want you to read this story about the families — the American families — who have been separated by US immigration laws. It is heart-wrenching. Most offenses, civil or criminal, have statutes of limitation. Not so for illegal immigration. Most courts offer leniency for offenders who co-operate with law enforcement. Not so for illegal immigration. Most courts have discretion in varying punishment for offenders. Not so for illegal immigration.

Somehow, we see immigrating illegally as beyond the pale — as something that merits the toughest, most inflexible, inhumane punishment possible short of physical harm. The mandatory sentence for people who have been unlawfully present in the US for over 1 year is deportation for 10 years. Those who have crossed the border unlawfully more than once can be barred for life.

To put things in perspective, the median prison term for someone convicted of child sex exploitation in the US is a little over 5 years. The median prison term for molesting a child is half the mandatory deportation term for an “illegal immigrant”! The average sentence for those convicted of “alien smuggling” is a little under 2 years (see the US Sentencing Commission’s 2012 report). In other words, “illegal immigrants” are given a sentence over 5 times longer than the smugglers who aid them!

People blithely say “The law is the law; it must be enforced.” But in what world does it make sense to treat immigrants worse than child rapists? In what world does it make sense to punish people for choosing to be with their families, when the law gives them no lawful option to do so? There are some legal immigrants who have been waiting outside the US for their family reunification visas since 1989 (see the State Department’s latest visa bulletin).

Let’s not play dumb here. Immigrants and their families are no idiots; they know they’re being treated worse than child molesters:

“When they give out these bars, they’re not just giving them to one person. They’re giving them to a family,” Anita said. “It’s actually worse than a prison sentence. People in prison can do a lot less time, and do a whole lot worse things.”

If the law prevents people from being with their families, and then punishes them for following the most fundamental human instinct, it’s not the immigrants who are wrong — it’s the immoral, barbaric legal system which tears families apart. This is not a radical position; this is the official United Nations interpretation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a treaty signed and ratified by most of the world (dark green states have signed and ratified; light green have signed but not ratified; grey have done neither):

This is not a question of theory; as a question of practice, the UN has ruled that under the Covenant long-time residents of a country, even if they do not hold citizenship, have the right to be treated as such — especially if they have long-standing family ties to that country. In Nystrom v Australia, the UN ruled that Stefan Nystrom — a Swedish citizen who until his deportation had only spent 27 days of his entire life in Sweden — had the right to live in the only country he had called home his entire life, and the country where his entire family lives.

It is unequivocally clear that modern deportation laws in most countries violate international laws and norms on human rights. Nystrom’s case is an unusual one because he is a convicted sex offender and possibly mentally ill — but if he had been born 27 days later as an Australian national, nobody would suggest that Australia ought to deport him instead of jailing him for his crimes. How can one justify deportation laws which tear apart families where no crime has been committed, except the “crime” of illegally crossing a border to be with one’s family? American Senator Marco Rubio once said:

If my kids went to sleep hungry every night and my country didn’t give me an opportunity to feed them, there isn’t a law, no matter how restrictive, that would prevent me from coming here.

If my kids went to sleep without me every night and my country didn’t give me an opportunity to be with them, there isn’t a law, no matter how restrictive, that would prevent me from joining them. Under any reasonable sense of morals or ethics — and under international law — there is no possible way to fault the families of “illegal immigrants” for being “illegal”. The only blame lies with the immoral legal systems of the world that violate every human being’s right to be with their family.

12 thoughts on “Immigration, a worse crime than child sex exploitation”

  1. “In other words, “illegal immigrants” are given a sentence over 5 times longer than the smugglers who aid them!”

    Of course, “immigration restrictionists” would argue that if they would just stop coming, they’d stop facing these punishments.

    That said, I more than most understand that the threat of punishment is not necessarily effective in deterring the unwanted behavior.

    “In what world does it make sense to punish people for choosing to be with their families, when the law gives them no lawful option to do so? There are some legal immigrants who have been waiting outside the US for their family reunification visas since 1989″

    From a libertarian standpoint, one could argue that the knowledge that family unification is so difficult should be something foreigners should consider before immigrating to the States.

    Overall, I’m going to make this general statement on the case you make on this blog: I have no problems with making arguments on moral grounds. Indeed, I am all for trying to improve lives of everyone on Earth, as much as we can (and for the poorer parts of the world, this would be best served by reducing the birth rate such that the population there eventually falls). However, writers here should serious consider this question: would open borders accomplish this?

    The available evidence we have strongly indicates that the answer to that question is no. Since economic vitality and societal conditions are mostly a result of human capital, mass immigration from poorer nations to richer ones would primarily serve to bring the economic and social conditions closer to that of the poorer nations, and very few people—even the immigrants themselves or their descendants —would benefit as a result.

    1. JayMan, thanks once again for stopping by. I appreciate your candid feedback regarding the site. I also admire your desire to figure out whether open borders would truly do the world good.

      That said, I think that your statement that writers here “should serious(ly) consider the question: would open borders accomplish this?” reflects a lack of familiarity with this site. Not a problem, since you may very well be new to this site. Let me introduce you to the wealth of site material that addresses the questions you raise, including blog posts and background content on the site.

      Before I go on, though, let me make a point that I’ve made in the past: it is not the case that every single blog post or comment on the Open Borders website is intended to address every one of the myriad objections that people have raised to open borders. Individual blog posts generally concentrate on specific aspects (the whole division of labor thing). The site has a lot of background content (independent of blog posts) that goes into all the major objections, and the blog posts provide a running commentary that helps complement these by exploring specific ideas in greater depth. When a particular issue is being discussed in a blog post or page, the goal is to address that particular issue, not to make the overall case for open borders.

      Now, coming back to whether we “seriously consider” the question of whether open borders would accomplish what we claim they accomplish. Yes, we do. May be we don’t reach the same conclusions you do. On the positive side, we have pages on double world GDP (with links to a paper which in turn has lots of references, and with links to many blog posts that delve further into the issue and respond to various critiques), place premium (again with links to papers and blog posts), end of poverty (which builds on the double world GDP page). On the minus side (or objections side), the objection you list is described at the killing the goose that lays the golden eggs page, and a similar issue is addressed at the benefits and harms to migrants: a meta response page. And we have a fairly comprehensive list of harms to immigrant-receiving countries, harms to immigrant-sending countries, global harms, theoretical objections, and a lot more, all accessible from the menus you see on top. Yes, we haven’t shied away from a discussion of the harms of heterogeneity and characteristics of immigrants that harm immigrant-receiving countries. You will find on this website lots of harms for which we haven’t (yet) had time to craft a response — so yes, we do seriously consider objections, and concede their validity where we think they may be valid.

      You’ll also find that individual blog posts on this site have hyperlinks to this background information from within the blog posts — to save the blogger the effort of trying to address the issues in depth in each blog post. This allows the blogger to concentrate on his/her novel contributions rather than covering old ground again.

      1. I’m going to digest this and get back to you. I may end up responding in the form of my own blog post. Either way, I’ll keep you posted, and thanks.

    2. “Of course, “immigration restrictionists” would argue that if they would just stop coming, they’d stop facing these punishments.”

      “From a libertarian standpoint, one could argue that the knowledge that family unification is so difficult should be something foreigners should consider before immigrating to the States.”

      Would you care to make the argument that it’s not a problem if the Iranian government kills whoever crosses its border, because it’s well-known that their border guards murder unauthorised immigrants? It sounds like your position is that a state is entitled to do anything it likes to non-citizens — and more than that, it is moral for a state to do anything it likes to non-citizens, as long as citizens are fine with this.

      1. “It sounds like your position is that a state is entitled to do anything it likes to non-citizens”

        That would certainly not be my position. Clearly, there is a middle ground between “the state being able to do what it pleases with non-citizens” and “non-citizens should have all the same rights as citizens” (particularly, the right of residency in the country in question).

        1. “Clearly, there is a middle ground between “the state being able to do what it pleases with non-citizens” and “non-citizens should have all the same rights as citizens” (particularly, the right of residency in the country in question).”

          It’s unclear to me why non-citizens should have absolutely no right of residency. They may have a different standard for residency than citizens, but quite clearly there are legal and moral standards which prohibit governments from arbitrarily declaring “Get out of your house; you’re no longer welcome here,” regardless of your nationality.

          Historically, sovereign states have not been very paranoid about non-citizens taking up residency; nation-states existed fine before the imposition of modern border controls, and they continue to exist fine even after the abolition of border controls. Many state constitutions in the US even treated non-citizen residents as virtual citizens, guaranteeing them the right of suffrage in state elections, until increasing xenophobic public sentiment led to changes in the law.

          1. “It’s unclear to me why non-citizens should have absolutely no right of residency. They may have a different standard for residency than citizens, but quite clearly there are legal and moral standards which prohibit governments from arbitrarily declaring “Get out of your house; you’re no longer welcome here,” regardless of your nationality.”

            For the purposes of clarity, by non-citizens, in this discussion, we mean foreign-born individuals who have not been granted any sort of residency in the country in question.

            And if that’s who we’re talking, why should they have any right to reside in said country?

            “Historically, sovereign states have not been very paranoid about non-citizens taking up residency; nation-states existed fine before the imposition of modern border controls, and they continue to exist fine even after the abolition of border controls.”

            Obviously that’s not true, but that’s a bigger discussion.

  2. “For the purposes of clarity, by non-citizens, in this discussion, we mean foreign-born individuals who have not been granted any sort of residency in the country in question.”

    My position is that morally, residency is not a privilege governments can grant. It is a right they can revoke under certain circumstances. You contend that by definition, residency is a right accorded to citizens and a privilege accorded to all others. Historically, that is not true, even well after the dawn of the nation-state. The status quo is a historical aberration.

    “Obviously that’s not true, but that’s a bigger discussion.”

    It is absolutely essential to the discussion. It’s impossible to argue that by the very definition of the nation-state, only citizens have rights of residency or even suffrage, when various nation-states have freely guaranteed rights of residency or suffrage to all without losing their sovereignty or nationhood. It is not set in stone that non-citizens have no rights, or even must have fewer rights than citizens.

    To be clear, I don’t have any desire to redefine the rights of citizens in a nation-state (except perhaps in the case of places like China or Russia where citizens are prevented by law from migrating internally). What I do desire is a re-definition of the rights of non-citizens when the existing legal rights afforded to them are clearly insufficient from a moral standpoint.

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