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The difference between legality and justice

Date published: 1/24/2014

By ly white

A recent letter ["Let's be wise about immigration"] ended by stating that the enforcement of immigration law is not up for debate.

I am deeply troubled by the implication that laws must be enforced simply because they are laws. As we honor the memory of Dr. King, one person who challenged this notion, let us remember that law and justice are not always synonymous.

The United States has a shameful history of legislating who has the right to be here. Remember the genocide of Native Americans, the deportation of U.S.-born Mexican-Americans during the Great Depression and the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. Remember that our laws once permitted only white people to become citizens. Most importantly, remember that all of this was perfectly legal.

The U.S. no longer uses race to determine citizenship eligibility, but our past shapes the present. We tend to believe that anyone can immigrate, provided they follow the rules and "wait their turn in line." However, our laws have made it virtually impossible for the vast majority of people to immigrate legally.

Simultaneously, U.S. trade policies promote the free migration of capital across borders, undermining foreign economies. After NAFTA, for example, U.S.-subsidized corn flooded Mexico. Mexican farmers, who received no subsidies, could not compete with cheap U.S. corn. Many were driven out of business and off the lands their families had farmed for generations. Of course, this was perfectly legal.

Many confront a dilemma we can scarcely imagine. To survive, they must immigrate, but they cannot immigrate legally given current laws. They must therefore immigrate without documentation because no path enables them to immigrate in a reasonable amount of time, provide for their families and maintain their dignity.

Meghan Conley