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.