The second principle -- the rule of law -- is sound as well. But sometimes in a democracy, the elected representatives enact bad laws, and the question is what to do about it. We could -- and in my view, we should -- enact changes to our current immigration laws that would make it easier for people to come here legally and, therefore, reduce illegal immigration by adults and children. Keeping laws on the books that we have no intention of enforcing also encourages disrespect for the rule of law. Yet no responsible conservative to date has argued that the solution is to round up and deport the 11 million people who reside here illegally. One might even argue that since we ignore violations of the law routinely, the principle of desuetude applies -- which says that laws unenforced for long periods are rendered invalid.
Finally, conservatives are simply wrong when they claim the president lacks authority to defer action against one class of illegal immigrants -- young people who came as children -- because it violates the intent of Congress. The Dream Act, which was at one time a bi-partisan effort, would have granted these young people legal status, and in most versions, a path to citizenship, which the president's deferred action does not. Moreover, the decision to initiate deportation proceedings has always been exercised by the executive branch, just as the decision of whom to prosecute falls to prosecutors, not those who write the laws.
But beyond these questions about conservatives' objections, a final one seems to me the most compelling. Conservatives often invoke the principle that no one should be held accountable for wrongdoing that occurred in the past and in which the person in question played no role. We oppose reparations for slavery on this basis, as we do most forms of affirmative action. So, too, should we oppose a punitive policy that forces nearly two million young people to choose between continuing living in the shadows, unable to work, or leaving the country they've come to know and love.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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