Steve Russell
Sep 11 · 5 min read
From a Camera in a Telephone Booth Through Pixabay

Racism Pollutes Immigration Policy Debate

Well-meaning members of the chattering class have been expressing concern that Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are driving the Democratic Party far enough to the left to scare the sheepies and win Donald John Trump a second term. The very worstest of the worst, the biggest scares, involve replacing the outmoded Welfare Cadillac meme with the dreaded undocumented hordes who are simultaneously too lazy to work and here to take our jobs.

The waves of fear did not start with Donald Trump. Even though America is a nation of immigrants, demonization of “foreigners” ebbs and floods in our political history and our immigration laws. Chinese were the menace when we wanted them to build the transcontinental railroad and then go back to China. The Irish took a turn in the role of alien menace, as did people from all those little countries in Eastern Europe nobody could keep straight.

It was in September of 2009 when Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) interrupted Barack Obama’s first state of the union address with a shout of,


What set Wilson off was Obama’s claim that “illegals” would not be covered under what would be known as Obamacare and there were at least five bills pending when Obama was trying to inform Congress what he would sign. Just before Wilson tried to turn a joint session of Congress into a debate in the British House of Commons, Obama’s exact words were,

There are also those who claim that our reform effort will insure illegal immigrants. This, too, is false — the reforms I’m proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally…

On hearing those words, Wilson went ballistic, but I was thinking, “Why the hell not? What is wrong with you, dude? Are you telling us that emergency room care will become cheaper than being seen in a doctor’s office or that the plan is to let them die in the parking lot for lack of a green card?”

On the second night of the Democratic Party’s “debate,” health care for undocumented persons came up as one of those infamous “raise your hand if” questions and every candidate endorsed the idea of health care for the undocumented.

If the Devil is in the details, Satan’s entire army is in the details of that question and that’s so often the case in “raise your hand” questions I don’t understand why the candidates do not, as a group, refuse to answer in that manner.

Health care for the undocumented is one of two major issues where the Democrats allegedly have been driven off a leftward cliff, with driver licenses for the undocumented plowing the same political furrow. These issues can be explained to anybody with a three digit IQ in a manner that should result in a change of opinion.

The other is making illegal entry a civil infraction rather than a crime, a policy that might live in the same room as decriminalizing marijuana on the national level. These are more complicated, and I’m not prepared to differ with those who say pols who want to attempt serious policy wonking in public have a death wish. But I would add that a democracy with voters too dumb for serious policy analysis has a bigger death wish.

First issues first, understanding that if the racism backdrop moves voters, then logic is dead meat. Here’s the logic:

*Chronic illness properly managed is much less likely to lead to acute illness.

*Americans are civilized enough that nobody suggests persons with an acute illness be allowed to die. If Americans are not that civilized, I concede defeat.

*Therefore, undocumented persons who are physically present in the country and are able and willing to buy into the national health care system should be allowed to do so.

*The benefit to the ailing undocumented aliens is incidental. The purpose is to benefit U.S. taxpayers.

Similarly, the purpose of allowing the undocumented to test for driver licenses is not to benefit them — the purpose is to benefit us. Do you think they’re not going to drive? This is the United States, the land with lots of assault weapons and very little mass transit.

*Passing the examination is a minimal demonstration of competence to drive. Passing does not make you Mario Andretti, but do you want to share the road with persons who can’t pass?

*The Driver’s License Bureau is a choke point to check for liability insurance. Undocumented persons can buy short term policies and let them lapse. So can citizens. At least they know how to do the right thing if they get burned for doing the wrong thing by an accident or a very expensive ticket.

The line between crimes and pervasive civil regulation is a harder place to navigate, and I don’t have a fixed opinion on how to deal with illegal entry. I would certainly oppose making it a felony but I am not offended that it’s a misdemeanor.

More process is due to persons charged with crimes. If incarceration is possible, there is a right to counsel. The right to reasonable bail might come in handy.

I am thinking proponents of the civil infraction are motivated by no arrest for persons who sign a summons. Even if there is an arrest, there is no need for bail to get released pending trial.

Mr. Trump continually accuses the Democrats of supporting “open borders.” If that accusation is false — and I think it is — Democrats should not support a procedure that requires the Border Patrol to release persons who have entered unlawfully before having a reasonable opportunity to find out who they are.

They Don’t Belong in Cages Photo from Pixabay

A procedure focused like a laser on avoiding the conditions under which undocumented persons are held now — most livestock is treated better — should be almost as popular as breaking open the kiddie cages.

While the procedure choices that must be made are fairly subtle, the status quo is so ugly that almost any change should sell to the voters.

The need to change marijuana law on the federal level is marginally simpler. People who believe in federalism in the sense of the states being laboratories for policy should not support the federal government bigfooting the decisions made in the states both by legislation and by referendum. There is no national consensus and the only way to get one is for the feds to stay out of the issue. They are doing so now, but only as a matter of forbearance, and the law should not depend on who the Attorney General is and/or what he or she had for breakfast.

There are other sub-issues, but the bottom line is that a person smart enough to be POTUS ought to be smart enough to parse these questions and give sensible reasons for the policies now claimed to be kryptonite.

In theory, we have political campaigns to debate policy — not to find a pre-existing parade and try to jump in front of it. Remember, the green rocks are a necessary plot device to create some dramatic jeopardy that would otherwise be hard to imagine. Superman still wins.

Steve Russell

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Steve Russell is enrolled Cherokee, a 9th grade dropout, retired judge, associate professor emeritus of criminal justice, and (so far) a cancer survivor.

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