It is the major purpose of law to provide justice for people who are experiencing injustice. A law is a good law if it intends a just outcome. A law is an effective law if it actually accomplishes more justice than it causes injustice.
Immigration law is no exception to this general rule. We have immigration law in order to provide justice to people and to minimize the level of injustice suffered by people. To determine whether our immigration laws are good or bad, effective or ineffective, we merely must examine how well they are accomplishing just outcomes for the people affected by them.
It is my belief that, as is the case with most kinds of laws, when immigration laws go unenforced, the result is greater injustice than when imperfect laws (the only kind we have) are enforced.
Now, a lot of the arguments I read in favor of the strict enforcement of immigration law seem to arise from a perspective that doing so provides protection for those who are already American citizens (whether protection from downward wage pressure, from purported crimes committed by immigrants, or from feared terrorism). None of those reasons lie behind my position. I am not an economic protectionist; I am a free-market capitalist. The idea that immigration fuels crime has been, from what I have seen, pretty soundly debunked by the relevant data. And all of the terrorist acts committed on American soil have been, I do believe, committed by either natural-born citizens or LEGAL immigrants.
Rather, I’m arguing for the strict enforcement of immigration law (and I’m open to the improvement of the laws on the books) because I believe that these laws provide justice for immigrants themselves. When our immigration laws go unenforced, the result is injustice for immigrants.
Sometimes injustice is measured by wrongs done to everyone, but not nearly always. It is a nonetheless unjust situation when one person gets something much better than he or she deserves while another person gets something much worse than he or she deserves. Most unjust situations actually benefit someone. This is true of American immigration law. When our laws go unenforced and when illegal immigration is tolerated, the result is a net injustice that greatly favors some immigrants at the expense of others.
I was personally unaware of these dimensions of American immigration law until our church became significantly involved in missionary work in Africa. When we fail to enforce our immigration laws, the result certainly is one of greater opportunity for immigrants who can enter America across land borders (primarily Mexican and Central American immigrants). Those opportunities do not equally extend, however, to immigrants from Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe, various island nations around the world, and yes, even the Middle East. Poverty is no less real in those parts of the world. Oppression is no less real there. It is just as possible to mouth the American dream in Pashto, Mandinka, or Ukrainian as it is to do so in Spanish. The benefits of immigration from other parts of the world is no less than with regard to our nearest neighbors, and the risks are no greater. The more our country experiences illegal immigration from nearby neighbors, the less appetite and capacity our nation has for welcoming immigrants from other parts of the world. We need to enforce our immigration laws in order to right this injustice.
We can do this without separating families at the border or descending into immigrant-bashing. I’d be perfectly happy to have more immigration so long as it were more fair. We need functional borders that distribute the opportunity of American citizenship fairly. We need just immigration laws. We need to enforce them justly and with firm resolve. Those who are winners under the present unjust system will object to the change. Those who are losers under the present unjust system do not have any voice by which they can object. We need to do it anyway, for the sake of justice.