Surface    |    Backfill    |    About    |    Contact


18.9.09

Immigration as Trespassing

Slacktivist has an interesting post that I think springs from a false premise. His core argument is that nativists like Joe Wilson would be threatened if we started referring to undocumented immigrants as "trespassers," because that would remind them of the line in the Lord's Prayer that asks us to "forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us."

There are certain elements of the post that he gets right. A rigid "they broke the law and must be punished" rationale has two weaknesses even when taken on its own terms. First, there is value in -- and in the Christian tradition from which most US nativists spring, a command for -- forgiveness of some wrongdoing. Second, the scale of the wrongdoing matters, as a trespass sounds less extreme and thus deserves less of a punishment.

But the reason I say the premise is false is that many nativists do conceptualize undocumented immigrants as trespassers. I don't have time to search for it, but I recall a conservative editorial cartoon from a year or two ago that explicitly analogized undocumented immigration to a stranger breaking into your house and helping himself to the food in your fridge. I can't speak for Joe Wilson, but there have been repeated efforts in Arizona and elsewhere to declare presence in a jurisdiction without legal status to be a form of trespassing, thus giving state and local police authorization to round up anyone without papers even if they committed no other offense. Any discomfort they may feel on being reminded of the Lord's Prayer is overwhelmed by their desire to get those people punished and deported.

What's more, I think that conceptualizing immigration violations as a form of trespass gives us the wrong overall framing of the issue, by presenting the country as a sort of private property owned by its citizens, to which we may admit guests and new members at our whim. I find it odd, and difficult to justify, that we apply this property schema to countries and to actual private properties, but not to intermediate jurisdictions like states, counties, and municipalities. I would rather move the country toward the state/county model. A key difference here, which runs counter to the trespassing framing, is that the burden of proof shifts -- rather than the immigrant having to justify their entrance and continued presence, there should be a presumption in favor of free movement and the natives have to justify any restrictions. Precisely what policies derive from that framing is a question I don't have space for here (though longtime readers may recall I find relatively few restrictions on entrance and activity while present to be justifiable). But the trespass framing would tilt the discussion toward a more restrictive policy system.

3 Comments:

Blogger Scott Wells said...

Hmm. Hasn't worked with "forgive us our debts" -- using the translation more common among Evangelicals.

7:42 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

If I am remembering my listserve knowledge correctly, Louisiana has passed those trespass laws, and several other states keep trying.

Also, illegal entry is a federal misdemeanor, and reentry after deportation is a felony. So even if the states don't have trespassing statutes, the federal framework has pretty well set it up that way.

Furthermore, by focusing on the trespass issue, you take away from the fact that many, many, immigrants (some estimate the majority) who are currently without status in the US entered on a visa and overstayed. Even many Mexicans, the most infamous "border jumpers" come her on their visitor visa or border crossing card (good for entry up to 75 miles into the US and 2-3 days in I think- the 75 is what trips people up the most so I remember it). So, its less like trespassing and more like getting your party guest to leave after the event is over. I think legally if someone didn't leave your house after you invited them in, it could be charged under trespass (or perhaps disorderly conduct) but that's a case where the law has no good concept that maps to the situation, rather than trespassing being particularly applicable.

10:56 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

If I am remembering my listserve knowledge correctly, Louisiana has passed those trespass laws, and several other states keep trying.

Also, illegal entry is a federal misdemeanor, and reentry after deportation is a felony. So even if the states don't have trespassing statutes, the federal framework has pretty well set it up that way.

Furthermore, by focusing on the trespass issue, you take away from the fact that many, many, immigrants (some estimate the majority) who are currently without status in the US entered on a visa and overstayed. Even many Mexicans, the most infamous "border jumpers" come her on their visitor visa or border crossing card (good for entry up to 75 miles into the US and 2-3 days in I think- the 75 is what trips people up the most so I remember it). So, its less like trespassing and more like getting your party guest to leave after the event is over. I think legally if someone didn't leave your house after you invited them in, it could be charged under trespass (or perhaps disorderly conduct) but that's a case where the law has no good concept that maps to the situation, rather than trespassing being particularly applicable.

10:56 PM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home