The Collective Obligation
Immigration, the law, and the truth
By. Raimondo Graziano
~ Written sometime before the 2016 Presidential Election
As citizens of a country we follow a set of established laws. These laws find their legitimacy both in the governing bodies in which they were created, and in the people, who so willingly follow them. The jurisdiction of the law depends on the deviation of the reach of government at the local, state and federal level. These laws are the set rules that govern the entirety of our nation’s institutions, and our people. Whatsoever the United States feels to call its territory, and wheresoever it chooses to enforce these laws to give them their grounded legitimacy, is the jurisdiction and full reach of the power of these established rules and codes that we follow as a civil society.
With this being said, is it not true that citizens and non-citizens alike ought to fully and faithfully comply with the established law of the land, if they are inhabiting and benefiting from the land? I would say yes – so long as the law of the land be objectively moral in nature. As a member of political society, whether legally or otherwise, you have a moral obligation to follow the laws, unless, a condition begins to arise in which the needs, wants and rights of a people begin to become subordinate to the needs, wants and rights of a state. You have this obligation because you directly and indirectly benefit from the legitimacy of the established government. You partake in the use of roads, you expect a common defense against an aggressor (the military and police forces), you engage in commerce over a great expanse of land and territory, your children are afforded a free education for the majority of their childhoods. It is because of this that we have an obligation not only to the state, but to each other as members of this civil society, to uphold the legitimacy and structure of the society. Because it is in no one’s interest to not comply with the law, if the law be just. An unjust law serves to disparage and dilute the purpose of law – to ensure security, equality, equity, and fairness. It is these things that a proper state ought to be able to provide to its people. In a civil society such as ours, a people have the right to freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of religion and people have the right to be secure in their mutual understanding between peoples, that in matters of work, pay, and the usage of public goods and private services that they won’t be discriminated against based on race, or gender. If these rights listed are violated, then that law is unjust – if it serves to harm, disenfranchise, exclude or alienate a people; it is unjust.
Because we live in this particular frame of thinking in theory and in practice, we tend to see these ‘rights’ as sacrosanct. However, in a state of what would be called “the state of nature”, or more simply universal chaos there are no governments, no checks, no contracts between men. There is simply man. He lives and resides to serve his purpose of survival and his families. But since this is not the world in which we live, we must form codes and ways in which to conduct ourselves amongst societies and men. Therefore, we must consider this. If an undocumented immigrant enters the United States, are they subject to the codes of conduct and established laws of the country, even though they are not a citizen of said country? The answer is yes. However, if the law of that land prohibits undocumented immigration, does that person have a moral right to the state to turn themselves into immigration services? The answer too, is yes. By entering the United States, you are directly and indirectly benefiting from what the country may or may not be providing.
Now let me say this – to myself, the idea of self-deportation is reprehensible, not because it is immoral but because it is impractical. Human nature tells us that people will not willingly uproot themselves from a place they know is significantly better than where they originally came. But speaking, strictly from a moral standpoint – yes, if you intend to benefit from the good this country is capable and willing to provide economically, culturally, legally, politically, socially or otherwise – you should do so in full compliance with the law. The United States has an obligation first and foremost to ensure that its citizens are reasonably comfortable both in security and prosperity. The United States has an obligation to the idea of the state, to ensure its survival and security. This means that the United States must enforce its borders, so that the law’s jurisdiction is distinguishable. By entering the United States, you subject yourself to its laws and customs, and if you are a person of true morality entering the country illegally you technically are breaking this moral code. However, if the circumstances being endured in the homeland are to such an extreme that movement from that place is the only option to preserve your own life, you have a twofold obligation. Firstly, to protect your family and seek refuge. And two, if time is not an option, if waiting for legal passage is not possible, then you must enter the country that can reasonably provide for your security. But – after doing so, you have an obligation to yourself, to the state that has allowed you to cross the border, and to the people of this new country to comply with the law and turn yourself in to the proper services. You have to fulfill this obligation out of principle to the rule of law, and as a show of good faith to the people, institutions and government of the country that refugee is being sought from.
This then means that in order for the government to reasonably expect people to follow its laws and customs, people that are not citizens, the United States must offer a reasonably quick path to citizenship. If you have no malcontent aimed at the foundations and principles of the country than you have nothing to fear from the government, or its people. If you share the beliefs of democracy, liberty and the rule of law – there is no reason why you should not comply. The laws of the country are put forth to protect its citizenry, and if you intend to join its ranks you ought to follow them even if they do not legally apply to you as of yet. In any other case, it is the political and moral obligation of the United States to assume that you wish to commit acts of harm to the government, institutions, peoples, and services of the country whose laws you refuse to comply with.
The idea of morality in conjunction with the concept of a political obligation has been a force for the continuation of civil societies growth, and ever evolving nature. Socrates argues that because of the goods afforded to him by the state of Athens, he has a political as well a moral obligation to the state to fulfil the verdict and sentence given to him by the state, the people and the governing body. Socrates argues that because he has spent his entire life in the secure arms of a state that provided security and the means of prosperity, he has an obligation, similar in my belief to that of a son’s obligation to a caring mother or father, to fulfill the wishes or in this case the verdict, of the greater power. While in Socrates case, there seems to be a blind loyalty to a state without even the consideration of the notion that the verdict passed may be unjust. In relation to the current issue at hand – does a non-citizen have a moral obligation to the state to comply with its laws – is much more complicated. Socrates is one man and we are attempting to fit his morality into the framework of an entire population of people each with their own circumstances relative to their own lives. The question is then the following.
Do you have a moral obligation based on the amount of time stayed and the benefits incurred? Or, in the United States cases, do you have a moral obligation to the state based on the idea of the country? By making the conscious effort to displace yourself and put yourself in danger not only at the hands of your native government, but also that of the United States, in order to attain for yourself and your family peace, prosperity and security, do you not then recognize the great promise that the United States holds – idealistically and in practice. I would say yes. If you have the capacity to recognize that the United States is a place that can benefit you, then you have a moral obligation to comply. If you wish to partake in the benefits that come from being an American citizen, then you cannot reasonably pick and choose which laws you will and will not follow. And there is an argument that there are certain members of the populace that are not afforded this share of the pot, so to speak. However, the simple truth, and I would say an objective truth – is that The United States has an obligation to ensure the survival of the state. And that means, firstly, the enforcement of policy that benefits American’s currently living and engaging in the political and civil society we have under the law. But the United States cannot forget that we are nation of immigrants, and we must not turn our back to those that long for the ideals and promise of our country. While we are not a perfect nation by any account, we do hold great promise simply on the premise that a nation such as ours has not existed up to this point. And we would do well to preserve that very foundation we have built and hope to expand on. Secondly, The United States has a unique obligation to the peoples of the world that hope to call them citizens of this country. Meaning that the path to citizenship for those currently living here illegally under the law must be fastened. The voices that call for an end to immigration must be silenced through logical and reasonable dissent based on the principles of democracy, our constitution and if you choose to believe in, the teachings of major religions. There is a way to secure our borders and maintain a core principle of Americanism – our commitment to lawful and liberating immigration. Any notion otherwise is characteristically and categorically un-American.