Saturday, May 24, 2008

Criminalizing Work

In an addendum to the recent federal raids on illegal immigrants around the country, 270 of them have been sentenced to five months in jail for illegally using identity documents to obtain work. The Orwellian nature of their “crime” stems from the fact that they fraudulently used those documents in the first place because of the federal law enacted several years ago requiring employers to verify that their workers are legal residents. In order to comply with the first unjust law, the workers forged or fraudulently used documents. For that they were prosecuted.

The judge stated his position very simply, “I don’t doubt for a moment that you are good, hard-working people who have done what you did to help your families.” “Unfortunately for you, you committed a violation of federal law.” So, according to the judge these people’s actions hurt no one and, in fact, helped their own families. In that sense, the actions of these immigrants were no different than anyone else who earns his living. But, all of that is irrelevant. All that matters is that they broke the law, however unjust.

The judge must enforce the law, but the promulgation of unjust laws and the brutish mentality that pursues enforcement of laws as ends in themselves is the mark of creeping fascism. A favorite tactic of a dictatorship is to promulgate so many restrictive laws that simply to live, one must break the law. That is what these (largely) Guatemalan immigrants have done. In seeking to live through work, they broke the law. For that, they are to be severely punished.

“’My family is worried in Guatemala,’ one defendant, Erick Tajtaj, entreated the federal district judge who sentenced him, Mark W. Bennett. ‘I ask that you deport us as soon as possible, that you do us that kindness so we can be together again with our families.’”

Godspeed, my Guatemalan compadres, and may you one day return to more welcoming arms.

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