Justice, Mercy & Illegal Immigration

I’d like to post a few more thoughts on illegal immigration. I want to preface my thoughts with an excerpt from the science fiction novel Speaker for the Dead, by LDS author Orson Scott Card:

A great rabbi stands teaching in the marketplace. It happens that a husband finds proof that morning of his wife’s adultery, and a mob carries her to the marketplace to stone her to death. (There is a familiar version of this story, but a friend of mine, a Speaker for the Dead, has told me of two other rabbis that faced the same situation. Those are the ones I’m going to tell you.)

The rabbi walks forward and stands beside the woman. Out of respect for him the mob forbears, and waits with the stones heavy in their hands. “Is there anyone here,” he says to them, “who has not desired another man’s wife, another woman’s husband?”

They murmur and say, “We all know the desire. But, Rabbi, none of us has acted on it.”

The rabbi says, “Then kneel down and give thanks that God made you strong.” He takes the woman by the hand and leads her out of the market. Just before he lets her go, he whispers to her, “Tell the lord magistrate who saved his mistress. Then he’ll know I am his loyal servant.”

So the woman lives, because the community is too corrupt to protect itself from disorder.

Another rabbi, another city. He goes to her and stops the mob, as in the other story, and says, “Which of you is without sin? Let him cast the first stone.”

The people are abashed, and they forget their unity of purpose in the memory of their own individual sins. Someday, they think, I may be like this woman, and I’ll hope for forgiveness and another chance. I should treat her the way I wish to be treated.

As they open their hands and let the stones fall to the ground, the rabbi picks up one of the fallen stones, lifts it high over the woman’s head, and throws it straight down with all his might. It crushes her skull and dashes her brains onto the cobblestones.

Nor am I without sin,he says to the people. “But if we allow only perfect people to enforce the law, the law will soon be dead, and our city with it.”

So the woman died because her community was too rigid to endure her deviance.

The famous version of this story is noteworthy because it is so startlingly rare in our experience. Most communities lurch between decay and rigor mortis, and when they veer too far, they die. Only one rabbi dared to expect of us such a perfect balance that we could preserve the law and still forgive the deviation. So, of course, we killed him.

I hadn’t thought about this excerpt in some time. As a teenager, and then later after I had been college for some time, this short story left a powerful impression on me. I recalled it as I pondered the problem of illegal immigration.

I hear many people, including political candidates, advocate a hard-line “Rule of Law” stance when it comes to illegal immigrants. I honestly identify with many of the points they raise. Law is very important, and by failing to enforce the laws against illegal immigration we weaken the law and undermine its power to protect us from disorder. Many of the illegal immigrants that come to the United States are attracted by the prosperity and relative order we enjoy as a result of our law. What they don’t realize is that by flouting the immigration laws they are undermining the very source of the prosperity that attracts them. Ironically, by undermining the rule of law in the United States they are importing the seeds of political corruption (which we have enough of as it is) and resulting economic despair that practically define the Mexico they want to escape.

Those who advocate the hard-line “Rule of Law” stance tend to view all persons here illegally as criminals by definition. However, things may be a little more complicated. Imagine that you are twelve-year-old boy or girl in Mexico and that your parents decide to sneak into the U.S. to look for work. What do you do? What twelve-year-old is going to refuse to go because it is against the law? And if a minor enters the United States illegally with parents, should he or she be punished? If minors are brought illegally into the country as babies, grow up in the United States, and considers themselves Americans, should they be forced out of the country because thier parents brought them here illegally? Are the hard-liners willing to split up families and destroy children’s lives because of the sins of their parents?

Even for those who are here illegally by their own volition, is the punishment we propose requisit to the crime? Is there no room for mercy?

We are faced with a conflict between Justice and Mercy and a problem of determining to whom each should be granted. God himself had to sacrifice his Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ, so that he could be both perfectly just and at the same time perfectly merciful. As Card’s story above so brilliantly illustrates, he expects of us a perfect balance that will permit us to preserve the law and still the ability to forgive the deviation to some extent. Life and prosperity exist in the boundry between order and chaos. Rigor mortis is just as dead as rot and decay.

As recipients of the grace of Jesus Christ, we need to seek to be as merciful as possible in the matter of illegal immigration, while still preserving the law. It is a difficult balance to strike and there will likely never be a perfect solution, though with the inspiration of God we may be able to come closer than we are now. Yes, we need to preserve the rul of law, but as Christians we must also be merciful, lest we become like the unmerciful servant .

One thing that I do feel strongly about is that those who consider their illegal presence in the United States a form of mexican reconquista of the territories that were lost to the United States in the treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo in 1848, should not receive mercy. Whatever solution we come up with should focus the extension of mercy on the institution of the family. We should differentiate between those who helped their own family members cross the border illegally, and those criminal organizations who facilitate illegal immigration in exchange for money. The application of justice should focus on those who are members of criminal organizations. Those who receive mercy should also want to be americans, demonstrate a dedication to and be willing to make an oath upholding the founding principles of our nation, as expressed in the Declaration of Independence, and the application of those principles, as outlined in the Constitution. They should recognize that if we do let them remain in the United States and forgive them their trespasses, it is an act of mercy and not because it is owed to them, because it is not.

Any mercy extended should be preceded by real improvements in border control. You have to stop the flooding and repair the breach in the dam before you can clean up the mess. And we should be making real demands for political and economic reform in Mexico.

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