People who willfully break the immigration laws of the United States are also breaking the moral law -- because they are breaking just laws.
They are not victims; they are victimizers.
Among those harmed by their lawbreaking: U.S. workers and U.S. taxpayers (including legal immigrants), and foreign nationals currently living abroad who long to immigrate to the United States but would never consider violating the laws of this country to do so.
Another victim: respect for the law itself, which is an indispensable public virtue in a free country.
No nation in history has been as generous to immigrants as the United States. In the last 30 years on record (1987 through 2016), according to data published by the Department of Homeland Security, America has granted legal permanent resident status to 29,784,138 aliens.
That is more people than live in any state except California.
In fact, the 29,784,138 people to whom the United States gave legal permanent residency in the last 30 years outnumber the combined populations of Arkansas, Nevada, Mississippi, Kansas, New Mexico, Nebraska, West Virginia, Idaho, Hawaii, New Hampshire, Maine, Rhode Island, Montana, Delaware, North Dakota, Alaska and Vermont.
Those 18 states -- which account for 36 of the 100 members in the United States Senate -- were populated by only 29,607,309 people last year, according to the Census Bureau.
People from all regions of the world are welcome to legally immigrate to the United States. In 2016, for example, legal immigrants from Asia (462,299) and Africa (113,426) outnumbered those from Europe (93,567).
Nor does the United States shut its doors to those fleeing persecution. This nation granted legal permanent resident status to 120,216 refugees in 2016 and 37,209 asylum seekers.
But when someone illegally crosses the border with the intention of illegally staying in the United States -- or deliberately over stays a visa for that same purpose -- they are committing only the first in an inevitable series of illegal acts.
Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer of New York has done an excellent job explaining this.
On May 21, 2013, the Senate Judiciary Committee met to "markup" an immigration reform bill. This bill would have granted an eventual amnesty to millions of illegal aliens by giving them "registered provisional immigrant" status as a stepping stone to legal permanent residency.
As this column noted at the time, Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa offered an amendment to the bill that would have required an illegal immigrant applying for RPI status to disclose "all the names and Social Security account numbers that the alien has ever used to obtain employment in the United States."
Schumer argued adamantly that the committee must reject Grassley's amendment.
The man who is now the Democratic Senate leader argued then that it was unreasonable to expect people living illegally in the United States to remember all the Social Security numbers and identities they had forged.
"It's just totally impracticable," Schumer said.
"When people are living in undocumented status, there are times, I suppose, when they've made up identities, made up Social Security numbers," Schumer said. "How are they going to remember all that and are we going to delay RPI status?"
"We all know when they lived in the shadows, they had to forge documents, forge Social Security numbers, et cetera," Schumer said.
"I just don't see how, when you've lived here 10 years, and you've had many different identities, many different numbers, you're going to remember them all," said Schumer.
In a January 2017 interview with the Spanish newspaper El Pais, Pope Francis noted the legitimacy of national borders.
"Can borders be controlled?" the pope asked, according to the English-language version of El Pais.
"Yes," he said, "each country has the right to control its borders, who comes in and who goes out, and those countries at risk -- from terrorism or such things -- have even more of a right to control them, but no country has the right to deprive its citizens of the possibility to talk with their neighbors."
The United States not only allows its citizens to talk with our neighbors, it allows those neighbors to legally immigrate here in large numbers.
But the pope's statement needs some qualification: A tyranny -- such as North Korea -- does not have a right to stop people from fleeing its borders to escape injustice. But the government of a free nation like the United States -- acting to protect the liberty, security and prosperity of its people (both immigrant and native-born) -- does have a right to stop people from illegally entering or illegally overstaying a visa.
Those who violate that right are committing a wrong.
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