In a recent article published in the Star-Ledger, a study was presented showing that New Jersey is more likely to deport non-criminal illegal immigrants than any other state.
Typically speaking, I am advocating on behalf of those people who are not citizens and have been convicted of a criminal offense. As the over criminalization of America continues, the number of offenses that can lead to deportation seems to increase each year. In the overwhelming majority of the cases that I handle, my client is in the country legally, frequently as a legal permanent resident. Nonetheless, a relatively minor offense can lead to removal proceedings.
What one must remember is that having legal status in this country at least affords the individual some due process rights, including a hearing. As the legality of the immigrant’s presence dwindles, so do those rights.
So the questions really is this: Is it fair? A man/woman is here illegally, is pulled over for a suspended license, and then is removed from the country. There obviously is nothing criminal about that act, but illegal nonetheless. Actually, the act itself is irrelevant, other than the fact that it provides a valid reason for the police to have contact with an illegal immigrant.
Is it fair to require the adherence to a strict application process for admission into the U.S.A.? Is it unfair for our government to put restrictions on our borders? Is the a reciprocity of benefit that our illegal immigrant population (on a whole) provides outweigh the interest of government in securing our borders and enforcing immigration laws?
Frankly, I do not know the answers. But I do know that our system sometimes ( in this context) produces some very fair and just results, and sometimes it doesn’t. In some ways, that is the answer in a nutshell. There is no perfect system. No group of people is always going to be treated fairly all of the time. Some groups of people are given preferential treatment. Others are discriminated against.
As we work to solve the political and social problems of our country, I give pause at the prospect of a great middle ground, where everything and everyone is blurred into a slurry of equality bound by the rule of law.
In the practice of law, I find that true justice is achieved when the rules, as imperfect as they may be, are applied to the individual and the unique facts that each individual case presents. The temptation of the government actor is to generalize and group together categories of problems and people, and apply justice like a formula would apply to a geometry problem.
How does this tie into the whole immigration debate? Well, I guess my point is that the system is never going to work perfectly for everyone. It is as imperfect as people themselves. But the legal framework in our country is designed to perfect justice for the individual. The role of the advocate is to make it so for his client. But when it comes to the immigration issue, those who are here illegally frequently get “blanket” justice, with little opportunity to exploit the legal system and the relief it could provide.
Right or wrong, that little piece of paper that says you are here legally is your ticket to ride. My advice would be to get your hands on one if you don’t have it. Although immigration reform may be around the corner, there will always be a systematic bias against the individual who is here illegally. This is not to be confused with racial discrimination.
There will always be an easy out for the government to apply blanket justice to the illegal immigrant. The laws as the pertain to the illegal immigrant make it easy to deport once they get their hands on you. Be careful as we wish for uniformity of treatment because in this context it produce perverse results. Make it your right to be treated as an individual. Exploit the rules to work in your favor, and empower yourself with the knowledge to do it.