Criminalization

Much dialogue on marijuana in the last few decades has centered around the large rates of incarceration and the exorbitant cost of imprisonment. According to estimates in Eric Schlosser’s book Reefer Madness, some 20,000 inmates are currently imprisoned primarily for a marijuana charge. Proponents for legalization have a valid point when they argue that if marijuana were no longer criminalized, it would save the United States millions of dollars in lost labor and imprisonment fees.

What is more bizarre, then, is that very few politicians or advocates have spoken loudly or clearly on the topic of immigrant criminalization. With more than 12 million undocumented immigrants currently living and working in the United States, this number defies all logical enforcement and flouts our underfunded prisons.

There are essentially two types of bad legislation. Some failed legislation are good laws badly enforced, as in the case of the Emancipation Proclamation or school desegregation in the South. Both of these were good laws which lacked a concerted effort at universal, uniform enforcement. While some states succeeded in integrating students of all ethnicities, many states found loopholes and ways to thwart real enforcement.

The other sort of bad legislation are bad laws impossible to enforce. Prohibition, as laid forth in the 18th Amendment, was a good moral choice but bad legislation. State-mandated alcohol abstinence was impossible to enforce; it succeeded in little more than feeding mob activity and criminalizing thousands of people who up to this point had been law-abiding citizens.

Our current immigration system in the United States would fit into the latter category. With over 12 million illegalized citizens, it is fiscally and theoretically impossible to punish, discipline, fine, imprison, or detain every extralegal immigrant in the U.S. Its enforcement is impossible, but that has not stopped us from pouring $6.7 billion dollars into border security for 2007. Border security received more than a 3% raise from 2006, while education funds remained essentially the same and emergency funds were cut by 2%, even in the wake of the Katrina fiasco. With all these increased border security measures, the cost to apprehend a single illegal immigrant crossing the border has risen from $300 in 1992 to $1700 in 2002. And we still have over 12 million undocumented immigrants.

The only immigration reform which has been approved in the past few years has been in bulking up our border security. However, that is missing the crux of this situation – this is ultimately self-defeating, prohibitively expensive, and impossible to enforce.

Martin Luther King, Jr., in his outspoken speeched against Vietnam, stated that, “Justice is indivisible.” To have a law on the books which is unjust and not being enforced is to shake the very bastions upon which our justice system stands. Ultimately we must join with King in agreeing that, “no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers.” While amnesty will not solve everything, offering a feasible path towards citizenship for potential illegal immigrants as well as undocumented workers currently residing in the U.S. will begin to address this article of failed legislation and this pock upon our moral countenance.

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