June 7, 2007

June 7, 2007 | Commentary on

Courting Illegality

The immigration bill would permit a massive wholesale reversal of court orders.

The Kennedy-Bush-McCain immigration bill will worsen the ever-growing disrespect for our laws.

Among those rooting the loudest for immigration amnesty is a select group of hundreds of thousands of scofflaws. This group didn't "just" cross our borders illegally, nor simply overstay a visa. They went the extra mile to thumb their noses at America's belief in law and order. Each of them was personally, individually, and specifically ordered by our courts to leave the country - but they fled the law instead.

American taxpayers foot the bill for 53 immigration courts scattered around the nation. Their work is an expensive and lengthy process. The aliens who appear before them enjoy full constitutional rights of an accused - release on bond, legal counsel, due process, the ability to file motions, seek change of venue, and so forth.

These immigration courts conduct almost 300,000 hearings each year. About 40 percent of the subjects fail to even show up, so deportation orders are issued in absentia. Between the no-shows and those who appear, lose, and then flee before deportation, each year the accumulation of scofflaws grows by about 100,000 people.

Now we have 623,000 people inside our borders who have jeered at our court system, who went on the lam after they were ordered deported - and the immigration bill will let them get away with it.

Not only did they enter illegally, but they failed to exit when caught and ordered to leave - and our porous system permitted it. Yet the Kennedy-Bush-McCain immigration "reform" treats them the same as the rest of the 12 million or so who are here "merely" illegally. They all would get to stay, overturning the removal orders of the courts.

How is it not amnesty when the bill would permit a massive wholesale reversal of court orders? These individuals forced law enforcement to go all the way through a slow-moving and convoluted legal system. They lost their court fight, but they won because we let them get away from custody. Will they now be rewarded for their contempt of our courts, for disregarding their personal deportation orders?

Sen. John Cornyn (R., Tex.) wants to address this travesty as part of his amendment to exclude lawbreakers from amnesty or "Z visas." But his effort faces an uphill fight in a Senate where the deck is already stacked.

As Americans, we respect our courts and their decisions. We expect equal obedience from anyone wanting to be part of our country. That respect makes us different from the lawless cultures we still see around the globe. Even when we strongly disagree with judges, we know that orderly and civil society would collapse if we didn't honor their rulings.

It's bad enough that the sponsors of this immigration bill want to create amnesty. Must they also broaden it to those who disregard our courts as well as our borders? What kind of citizens would they be?

Anyone in Washington who promotes such disrespect for our laws shouldn't be trusted to make those laws.

Ernest Istook, a former Republican congressman from Oklahoma, is a visiting fellow at the Heritage Foundation. He was principal sponsor of the Balanced Budget Amendment.

About the Author

Ernest Istook Distinguished Fellow
Government Studies

First appeared in the National Review