Thomas Sowell
The immigration bill passed by the House of Representatives made it a felony for an illegal alien to be in the United States and for others to aid or abet that illegality.

Even many people who want to see serious immigration restrictions and the securing of our borders thought it was going too far to turn people who operate soup kitchens or day care centers into felons if illegal immigrants used their services.

It is wrong to try to make private citizens become enforcers of our immigration laws, whether they are church groups or employers. We don't demand that private citizens do the work of firemen or policemen. Why should they have to do the work that the immigration and border control agencies don't do?

A felony provision for people who provide incidental humanitarian aid that is available to citizens and non-citizens alike never had a chance to survive in immigration legislation that has to pass both the Senate and the House, so a lot of the hysteria about this particular provision was overplayed.

As for the illegal immigrants themselves, it is a little much to say that we should not "criminalize" illegal activity.

Innocent failures to comply with all the red tape that immigration laws entail is one thing. There is no need to turn people who slip up on some visa requirement or other technicality into felons who are to be locked up with hardened criminals.

But that is very different from saying that someone who deliberately scales a wall around our borders should escape criminal penalties.

If deliberate and flagrant violations of American immigration laws are to be nothing more than misdemeanors, this means that liberal judges across the country can give wrist-slap punishments or suspend sentences entirely. Nothing is likely to be done that will be a serious deterrent.

The mockery of our laws would simply be moved from the borders or the workplace to the courtrooms. But it would take time for such courtroom mockery to become widely known -- and, so long as it doesn't become widely known before the next election, the politicians who pass weak immigration laws would be home free.

There is another aspect of the immigration issue that has received little or no attention but can have a serious impact anyway. Amnesty would mean, for many illegal immigrants, that they would not merely have the same rights as American citizens, but special privileges as well.

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

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