Immigration laws need sensible reform

I like baseball. I like watching it. I like playing it. I am not very good at it, but I know that there is a reason that baseball is America’s pastime and our Braves are America’s team. The warm sun on your face at a Sunday afternoon game is as good as it gets. Playing baseball is American as mom and apple pie.

But in the early 1900s in America, it was illegal to play baseball on a Sunday in almost every part of the country. Not that playing baseball is work. I am pretty sure one can remember the Sabbath and keep it holy, yet still play nine innings with your son and the other kids in your neighborhood.
Still, for every law, there is a reason. I love and respect the law. I love Gainesville. I love America and the sovereign state of Georgia, for that matter.

Maybe there was a reason not to play baseball on Sunday in America back then. I don’t know for sure what the reason was, but surely no one would argue today that playing baseball in Gainesville on a Sunday should be a crime.

This is what I was thinking about when I read a certain letter to the editor in The Times on Thursday. The writer said that Gainesville has gone to heck in a handbasket since “illegals” got to town. Apparently, there was no crime or gangs in Gainesville until the last couple of years. Scratch your head and look skyward on that one.

We have a bit of a gang problem in Gainesville to be sure, but the young people involved are just as likely to have been born here as elsewhere. We have anti-gang laws. We should let the police handle it, as they have an excellent record in controlling the problem.

The letter went on to say that anyone coming into America illegally is predestined to be a criminal in society, too: “if they’ll come here illegally, then they’ll live their lives illegally.” By that reasoning, all those red-blooded Americans of old who liked playing Sunday baseball also were just as likely to break into your house and assault your family.

Does that sound reasonable to you?

When you and your family are starving to death, will you steal a piece of bread to feed them? Does that make you a criminal? Does that then mean you will live the rest of your life as a criminal?
The letter offered this questionable logic in support of the idea that we should all write our commissioners and council members in support of legislation to prevent landlords from renting to non-citizens. In the same issue of the Times, the County Commission Chairman and Gainesville Mayor made it clear they would not be “gun slingers” in following Cherokee County’s lead on this subject.

Smart. Unless we are prepared to have every grocery store, hardware store or general merchandise store administer an immigration questionnaire before checking you out at the register, we best leave immigration law to the federal government.

The truth is that the great majority of “illegal” aliens in America entered the country legally, but then overstayed without permission. True, many do cross the border illegally. But even among those who do so, my experience serving Gainesville for nearly a decade shows that these immigrants generally are not law-breakers. They are fathers and mothers. Sons and daughters. Brick masons and sheet rockers. Landscapers and custodians. Chefs and waitresses.

If not forced to live in the shadows, they would also by lawyers and doctors. Policemen and teachers. Business leaders and elected officials. As it is, they have been sentenced to the prison of living as a permanent underclass.

Still they go to church on Sunday and give thanks to God. They practically invented “family values.” They respect the laws of the societies in which they live. They share their culture with us and embrace our American spirit in an exchange like some modern Thanksgiving feast. (I’m not sure which of us is supposed to be the Pilgrims, but since we know how it turned out for the natives, we better not repeat that saga.)

With their hard work and dedication, they contribute to the prosperity of Gainesville like any other productive person. Just because some people break in line in the immigration process out of fear, political or religious persecution, desperation, starvation or impatience, it doesn’t mean we should fear them as criminals.

So why didn’t the line-breakers respect society’s law when they entered, you ask? For the same reason those scofflaws used to play baseball on Sunday: the law is unjust and should be changed. Immigration laws in this country are poorly written and poorly administered.

We actually have a policy for Cuban refugees called “wet foot, dry foot.” Literally, if you are fleeing Castro’s communist barbarism and can get one foot on dry land, then you can stay. If you are in the water, you must go back and face your death. Don’t even get me started on the special exceptions we make if you can throw a 90 mph fastball.

It’s OK to change a law that doesn’t work. An intelligent society is an evolving society with government that adjusts to serve the people. We have traveled around the world to spread freedom and democracy. We enter war zones to stop genocide and ensure free elections. Our Constitution is the most envied and revered model of a society of laws. And we can write immigration laws just as intelligently.

Criminal aliens should be deported. But if you have no serious arrest record, you support yourself and your family, and your only offense is breaking in line, we don’t need to throw the baby out with the bath water.

As for this push to step in the same puddle with Cherokee County, will you sign on to support a law that runs hard-working families out of their homes? Will you turn every landlord into an unpaid border patrol agent? Should we also deny noncitizens food or clothing? What about a slice of that apple pie that is the American dream? Remember brothers, “you were once strangers in Egypt.”
Just like the baseball laws are regarded as foolish, history will judge the recent anti-immigrant laws as some of the worst examples of nationalism and isolationism.

Every church I have visited talks about faith, tolerance, love and redemption on Sunday. These concepts have to carry us through the week as well.

Arturo Corso is a Gainesville attorney.

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