Monday, September 06, 2004

People Are People

The Bush administration has decided to send 3,000 Sierra Leonean refugees back to their country, which was known for much of the last decade as "the worst place on earth." The war is over, so regardless of how traumatizing it may be for these survivors to return, regardless of how many family members they lost in the violence or how desperate the situation that awaits them in their ravaged country, the administration says our immigration laws require sending the refugees back.

They may be right about that. The question is, why do our laws work this way? Does this country lack the resources to absorb 3,000 people, or just the heart?

[I]n the last decade, and especially after Sept. 11, 2001, the number of refugees allowed into the country has fallen, from more than 112,000 in 1991 to fewer than 29,000 in 2003.
Why? How many refugees have carried out terrorist attacks against this country? How many tens of thousands of people have to suffer so that we can save the FBI the trouble of doing thorough background checks on them?

In most areas that matter, the law has gotten better and better over time. Civil rights, gay rights, freedom of speech--there are bumps and dips, but the curves usually rise, and it's easy to believe that history is carrying us toward a better, more caring system. With immigration law it's different--sure, there are improvements, but it's still a rare political leader who questions our right to take away people's hopes, dreams, and chances for survival on the basis of where they happened to be born.

I know, it's a radical position, to think immigrants should be treated basically the same as citizens. (It's also the Biblical position, remember: "Ye shall have one manner of law, as well for the stranger, as for one of your own country: for I am the LORD your God." Leviticus 24:22.) I just can't think of a morally coherent reason why I should be allowed to stay here and get all the great things that go with being American, while Anita Kennedy Johnston lives in fear of being sent back to the hellhole she fled in terror fifteen years ago.

Michelle Malkin apparently can, although I'm not sure she's ever bothered to articulate it. With all the human tragedy in the world, Malkin took the trouble a while back to write a column about the horrible case of Jessica Santillan, a 16-year-old illegal immigrant who died after being given the wrong type of blood during a heart-lung transplant operation. The rest of the world was horrified by the easily avoidable medical error, but in the days between the operation and her death, while we all waited anxiously to see if Jessica would pull through, Malkin had a more urgent concern. This was her cri de couer:

if Jesica recovers from the second heart-lung transplant, will any federal immigration authority have the guts to enforce the law and send her and her family back home to Mexico?

It's not a failure of policy we're suffering from. It's a failure of decency.