Good Instincts Can Make Bad Laws

E. J. Dionne writes about the situation unfolding on our border:

Let’s stipulate: This is a difficult problem. Unless the United States is willing to open its borders to all comers — a goal of only the purest libertarians and a very few liberals — we will face agonizing choices about whom to let in and whom to turn away.

Moreover, it’s clearly true, as The Post editorialized, that “there is nothing humanitarian in tacitly encouraging tens of thousands of children to risk their lives, often at the hands of cutthroat smugglers, to enter this country illegally.”

But instead of dealing with this problem in a thoughtful way reflecting shared responsibility across party lines, President Obama’s critics quickly turned to the business of — if I may quote Beck — seeking political gain.

I think we need to stipulate a few more things. First, exploiting this crisis to seek comprehensive immigration reform rather than being content to address the problem at hand is baldfaced seeking of political gain.

Second, Mr. Dionne proposes no solutions. It’s easy to avoid politicizing a crisis when you don’t propose any solutions at all.

Third, releasing these kids onto American streets or into the hands of people whose identity or veracity we have no way of verifying is no more responsible than putting them on the tops of railroad cars heading north.

Mr. Dionne concludes:

All the pressure now is to change the Wilberforce Act so it would no longer apply to Central American children. There’s a strong logic to this. The law does create a powerful incentive for unaccompanied minors from Central America (which is not that much farther away than Mexico) to seek entry, en masse, to our country.

But there is another logic: that the anti-trafficking law really did embody a “good” instinct by holding that we should, as much as we can, treat immigrant children with special concern. Do we rush to repeal that commitment the moment it becomes inconvenient? Or should we first seek other ways to solve the problem? Yes, policymakers should be mindful of unintended consequences. But all of us should ponder the cost of politically convenient indifference.

The problem here is that good intentions are not enough to make good laws. Again, Mr. Dionne is silent on what should be done.

I’ll repeat my prescription. First, deal with the humanitarian crisis. Give the kids shelter, food, clothing, and medical care as appropriate and do it as close to the border as possible. We should be spending our money on food rather than air fare. Concurrently with that, amend the law. At the very least provide for expedited hearing procedures.

The third prong of our solution should be bilateral negotiations with Mexico and the countries of origins of these young people. The mass immigration could not occur without their tacit consent. Repatriation into a safe environment is IMO the optimal solution. Efforts that don’t point in that direction are seeking something less than optimal.

8 comments… add one
  • ....

    Let’s stipulate: This is a difficult problem.

    Okay, someone needs to hit him upside the head with a heavy, hard, blunt instrument.

  • PD Shaw

    From what I could tell from my quick dip into the Wilberforce Act is that it is not that children from Mexico and Canada are not protected, they just are not protected by specific procedures. It does make me wonder if the legislators treated neighboring states differently because of the fear of creating an adverse incentive, a fear that was not anticipated from further removed states.

    On NPR last week, a former Congressional staff lawyer was asked why Mexico and Canada are treated differently, and he said it was because of the practical problems of removing children to non-contiguous countries — it will take longer to figure out where they should go. I’m not sure I find that entirely persuasive.

    He also rejected Dionne’s claim that the 2008 law created the adverse incentives here. His response was that there was no increase for at least three years.

    I don’t know why contiguous and non-contiguous states should be treated all that differently. In particular, if the unforeseen event is the extent to which Mexico and states to its south would collude or conspire to abuse the law, then the response seems clear.

  • the practical problems of removing children to non-contiguous countries

    That’s interesting. They don’t seem to have any problem transporting them to non-contiguous states. All the more support for bilateral negotiations with the countries of origin.

  • PD Shaw

    @Dave, he almost sounded like he was saying for that group of kids, their homes were so close we could see them from the U.S., i.e. border towns.

    It might help if I could draw a flow chart of the Wilberforce Act, but the basic organization is that there is only one section dealing with the borders: SEC. 235. ENHANCING EFFORTS TO COMBAT THE TRAFFICKING OF CHILDREN.

    The first determination that needs to be made is whether enforcement is taking place at a border or port. If it does, we under subsection a: (a) Combating Child Trafficking at the Border and Ports of Entry of the United States. If not, go to subsection (b).

    The next determination is whether the child is from a contiguous country, if he is, we are under subsection (a)(2): (2) SPECIAL RULES FOR CHILDREN FROM CONTIGUOUS COUNTRIES-

    If the child is not from a contiguous country, we are at subsection (a)(3): (3) RULE FOR OTHER CHILDREN, which specifies that should be treated in accordance with subsection (b).

    Subsection (b) contains the standards for treating children who were not apprehended at the borders or ports. It also governs children who arrived at the border, but are not from contiguous countries. These two groups are very dissimilar.

  • PD Shaw

    I apologize if that is a mess, but there are two groups being given additional procedural protections in a way that does not make any sense at all.

    There are people being held in this country as slaves, perhaps for sex, but not exclusively, and when they can free themselves, presumably there will be evidence in this country of what happened. We have a perp in this country, we have locations where events occurred, and we have circumstantial evidence of the child’s experience that can be compared with people, places and things in this country because at least part of the crime happened in this country.

    The child coming alone to the border with a story has none of that. Giving that child additional process doesn’t change that it’s the child’s story alone. And I heard an administration official on NPR last week say that very few of these children will receive any permanent status, but each is entitled to a full and complete process in the unlikely event they are.

  • PD Shaw

    100 INPUT “Please Enter 1, if this is a port or border; otherwise enter 2” , N%
    110 IF N% = 1 THEN
    120 INPUT “Please Enter 1, if this child is from Mexico or Canada; otherwise enter 2”, P%
    130 IF P% = 1 THEN
    140 PRINT “Sorry, Minimal Process”
    150 ELSE
    160 PRINT “Full Process”

  • very few of these children will receive any permanent status, but each is entitled to a full and complete process in the unlikely event they are

    What will actually happen is that they’ll disappear and not necessarily in a good way. That’s why I think that what we’re doing is irresponsible. It looks like we’re facilitating trafficking rather than opposing it.

    The problem is the typical one when Congress passes a law: what happens then?

  • PD Shaw

    True, and its quite possible that those few who get into the country permanently might either be (1) the worst of the lot, meaning the best liars (sociopaths) or (2) the vulnerable and future victims. (The lawyer on NPR said that the motivation for the law was in response to the dark side of globalization, by which I think he meant the victimization that occurs in the immigrant communities because of the language and cultural barriers)

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