“Hard cases make bad law:” It’s a legal principle in U.S. court decisions that dates back at least 170 years. Its origin may go back even further, to Roman jurisprudence. The idea behind it makes sense. Laws should be made for the benefit of the general population. They should reflect and regulate normal circumstances.
Good law is not based on exceptions – and especially not exceptions wrapped in emotion. The law should embody sound reasoning rooted in a desire for justice, not warm feelings.
The trouble comes when a good principle meets complicated reality. It comes when “exceptions” become more the rule and less and less exceptional, and when enforcing a law does more damage than it fixes. Here’s an example.
Jaime L. (name changed) is a student at one of our Philadelphia-area parish schools. He and his younger brother were both born in the United States. Thus both are U.S. citizens. Earlier this month their parents’ car was stopped on the way to dropping Jaime at school. Their mother – an undocumented worker – was arrested on the spot by immigration authorities and transferred to a detention facility in York, Pa.
The mother has no criminal record. She speaks little English. She has little understanding of the proceedings she now faces. Her family is now in turmoil. Her husband has the burden of trying to find legal help for his wife while caring for their children alone and working a full-time job to support them. The parish is providing as much support to the family as it can, but the prospects for the mother are not good.
So where am I going with this story? On the surface, it sounds like just another emotional appeal to set aside a necessary law in the name of “compassion.” But that’s not my point. Every nation has a duty to regulate its borders and protect its own citizens. No sovereign state can legitimately do otherwise. We elect our representatives to serve our needs, and they make our immigration laws to ensure our public health and security.
Jaime’s mother broke the law. She may deserve special consideration – any sensible person should see that she does; she’s not a violent felon, not a hardened criminal, and two young American citizens urgently depend on her care – but just as importantly, the law itself, the law that currently incarcerates her, is broken. It’s not just, and not effective.
Despite nearly two decades of posturing, hand-wringing and name-calling, neither of our political parties has successfully reformed our immigration system. The cost for that gridlock is being paid by children like Jaime L. and his brother, and tens of thousands of other innocents just like them.
With 11 million “illegals” in the United States – the great majority with no criminal record or intent — Jaime’s mother is not an exception. Hard cases like hers are now too common to count or ignore. Immigration arrests are happening all over the United States and within our own archdiocese. The broken families they leave behind are a social disaster, not just now but in the years to come as the citizen-children of deportees grow to adulthood.
If hard cases make bad law, the evidence is irrefutable that bad law makes hard cases; cases of real suffering with human faces.
Earlier this week we celebrated Memorial Day, the unofficial beginning of summer. For many of us, our thoughts will be turning to the shore, warm weather, vacation, relaxation and time with our families.
That won’t be happening for Jaime and his family. We need to remember them in our prayers. And we need to demand a better grasp of justice and common sense from the people who make our laws.
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Father Paschal and I have been to York on a different case I know what it is like for there boys. I will pray to the Blessed Mother for them Love & prayers Paul
Excellent article that I wish went further and offered a roadmap for solving this very complicated legal and partisan political issue that intersects directly with Catholic morality.
The illegal immigration issue was thought to have been resolved in 1982 when President Ronald Reagan signed a bill that granted amnesty to all immigrants who were illegally in the United States before 1982 (nearly 3 million illegal immigrants). This was supposed to be a once only good will humanitarian grant of leniency. That henceforth all US immigration laws were to be strictly enforced.
The sad reality is that these laws have NOT been enforced, and today in 2017 we have perhaps up to 11 MILLION illegal immigrants in the US. Are we to now grant these 11 million new illegal’s amnesty again and make a mockery of the 1982 leniency bill? This would be unjustified except perhaps for the small numbers of current illegal’s who through marriage and US born children have grown into family hardship situations. These would need to be addressed with compassion so that family units would not be torn apart.
The bottom line is that when it comes to illegal immigration from our southern borders it seems like our laws are a façade subject to the whims of self serving politicians (and businesses) who masquerade as compassionate do-gooders. This is a critical area that the Church must come to grips with fully and forcefully, but seemingly isn’t. It is time for moral clarity and not being afraid to name names.
Christians are forgetting what Christ never did, that we belong to each other…the whole human race, saints and sinners alike we are all called to love as loved, empowered by his Holy Spirit. How little of his Spirit is evidenced in the uncharitable and unmerciful ways and means being elevated and justified in his name, on this globe…ways and means that are truly anti- Christ, can never can reflect an authentic Christian witness…the unveiling of these ” ways and means” so contrary to Christ’s Way (made incarnately accessible to man, in with and through Jesus) is an unveiling of how far we are from HIm…our besetting sin is exposed before us in glaring uncomfortable light.
With all due respect; as a bishop you are asking people to break God’s Commandments. The illegals have lied, stealed, cheated and coveted their neighbors goods. One of the readings for today was from Matthews Gospel; “He therefore that shall break one of these least commandments, and so teach men, shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven.” Bishop and your fellow bishops and cardinals need to stop teaching people to break the commandments.
And her Children are not legal citizens. The whole family can return to her country of origin.
“Earlier this month their parents’ car was stopped on the way to dropping Jaime at school. Their mother – an undocumented worker – was arrested on the spot by immigration authorities.” This is specious; does not make sense. Was the woman driving the vehicle or was she a passenger? Why was the vehicle stopped? Has ICE commented on the reason for the detention? Is it really true that she has NO criminal record and was not stopped for anything illegal?
What, exactly, is wrong with the law? Is it that it makes no exception for mothers of American-born children? Please elaborate.
My read of the 14th Amendment is that the “subject to the jurisdiction thereof” clause is meant for exactly this type of exception. The native-born children of those here illegally are not American citizens at birth. They are citizens of their parents home country.
Sorry, I need more information before I get emotional about this one.
Our Church better stop talking about ‘illegals’ and their rights in the U.S. From what I gather talking with other Catholics, we want all criminal illegals jailed and then deported. The law abiding ‘illegals (isn’t that redundant?) should be fending for themselves or go back to Mexico. If Archbishop Chaput wants to support them in our archdiocese maybe he should raise some money on his own and house them around the Cathedral or at the seminary. This is a civil issue , keep our Church out of this!
Well said, Your Grace. As our nation and many others have grappled with mass migration, I’ve been stunned by the utter lack of compassion so many of us have demonstrated. No one would deny the need for law and procedure, but how heartless many, even in the Church, have been in their judgment. We’re willing to admit that our tax code is in dire need of revision, but we won’t examine a deeply flawed immigration system that destroys lives. Have we truly considered the hellish conditions these fellow humans are fleeing – relentless war, entrenched corruption, systemic economic injustice (which, by the way, allows the likes of us to buy consumer goods at low prices)? Would any mother in her right mind bundle her child into a car trunk or onto a flimsy raft, risking both of their lives, to journey hundreds of miles with no guarantee of welcome, if life in her native land were not unbearable? And when we stand before the Judge of all, and the Author of true law, will we ourselves be able to provide any other documentation besides that imprinted in His Hands and Feet? God grant us the grace to treat every human being, regardless of immigration status, as Christ Himself.
As a conservative, I’d support some sort of (dare I say) “amnesty” program to allow people in these situations to become legal.
However, until we have a fairly secure border, this kind of program would simply encourage more people to risk their lives and welfare to get here, in the hopes of getting amnesty. Some politicians seem to be against even this first step.
Let’s remember the root of this problem is lax and inconsistent enforcement of the existing immigration laws in the first place. If the borders and immigration laws had been tightly enforced all along, all these difficult cases would be the rare exception.
You are not adverse to casting the blame on one political party and not the other in other pieces you’ve written. Your statement that “neither of our political parties has successfully reformed our immigration system” is interesting in that in recent history it is only one party that is responsible for the lack of movement on changes to our immigration and refugee laws. It is partisan of you to pretend there is equal blame in this situation and telling of your bias that you choose this issue with which to be so “fair.”
Right now, this is the law. If people want something different, then they need to work to change the law. Many people choose to comply with our laws, yet others do not. We are all called to respect God’s laws first, then just men’s laws.
Advocate, there are channels for illegals to become legal. I know someone who has been in the process for some time with an attorney. I can’t tell you the details because I don’t know what they are, but she’s doing it.
Saddenly these are men’s law’s,power and money is all matter for this government, the representants forgot that the Authority comes from God, they put aside humanity
We all are human beings, a creation of God! The real criminals living in freedom, I would like The Catholic Church work together to fight for the immigrants rights as we fight against abortion, as immigrant I can say many people ingnore the reason we are here… like my personal testimony is hard others put in your shoes, power reasons made me move with my 6 kids to protect them, from violence and abuse…Is there someone to know how hard and difficult is for a single mother that hat to take this desition?.. Just prayin this change for better soon! Blessings
You raise good points however my question is WHY she isn’t a citizen? Obviously if her children were born in US then certainly she had been here for a sufficient time to become a citizen. The onus in on her. You say her spouse is a citizen. So again I ask WHY isn’t she a citizen. My grandparents were all immigrants from Europe many years ago, enduring hardships to come to USA, and many more after coming here. When my one grandfather died in an accident, her spouse my grandmother, couldn’t speak English (Austrian); wasn’t a citizen; had 3 children (eldest my mom who was 5) and expectant w/a fourth child; needed now to earn a living to support herself and family. She got a housekeeping job at Catholic Church, then hospital; learned English;became a citizen; even got a drivers license and a car. She was only 25 when this all happened. She was always very proud of the fact that she was a citizen. Both her sons served in WWII – one was seriously injured. She loved USA. FACT: in her day IF one’s husband was a citizen the entire family was considered legal. But that was long ago at the turn of the century. But she knew she must become a citizen when her husband died. And she did what she had to do while raising her family alone. She was a very courageous lady who worked hard until she died and always was proud of being an American citizen.
The problem nowadays is that many of the immigrants (legal or illegal) coming to USA don’t feel it necessary to become a citizen of this great nation. The prefer to cling to their old national ideas, flag, language,etc. Very sorry but I don’t feel the way you do since I have known well the experiences of immigrants. Both my parents’ parents immigrated from millions of miles away but willing underwent the tedious wait at Ellis Island to enter;obeyed the regulation that they must have a sponsor here who took responsibility for them until they were responsible for themselves in all ways meeting the laws of USA. That meant becoming responsible citizens who learned our language; became citizens; held a job; etc.
Even the Church should not promote lawlessness for the sake of illusionary compassion, i.e, as stated above there seemed no real reason for NOT learning the language, becoming a citizen, and obeying our laws since she spouse did so and her children have by being born here and going here to school (learning English), etc. There are many, many others like me in the country to while they feel compassion for such trials as this family faces, they see clearly as the law does that this is in fact the woman own fault. NOT the government of the US or our laws.
She’s not a citizen because the law doesn’t allow it. If she entered the US illegally, there is no way for her to become a citizen – not by marriage, not by filing paperwork, nothing. It’s just not possible. I’m not saying it’s “hard”; it’s impossible. There’s no mechanism for it.
Carole, I couldn’t agree with you more!
So, what’s the solution?
Unfortunately, it all started with an illegal act by the mother.
Also, with all due respect (and I do respect you and your intention), it is not settled law that the children of illegals born in the US are automatically US citizens.
Th Fourteenth Amendment states “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.”
After nearly 150 years of interpretation that those born here are citizens, , I would say it is as settled as anything else in the law.
No doubt some suggest this be changed to exclude anyone where parent is not already a US citizen, but that would be a change.
This article seems reasonably presented. I respect that. Here’s the problem: in CA the reining political party has placed as many people on Medical and welfare as possible
There are millions of illegals in this state who work, are provided drivers licenses and thereby automatically are enabled (illegally) to vote and they all vote for Democrats. This has turned the state very close to fascism. CA is a one party state. And this being attempted nationwide.
The only way to bring sanity to all of this is enforcement of laws. And it is going to be ugly, but necessary
Either that or the country will be Argentina in 20 years