This is a guest post by Darren Rippy. Darren is a graduate student in the Master of Public Policy program at the College of William & Mary. He is a summer policy fellow at the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy.
Corey Stewart, the Chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, has been making news headlines over the past couple of months. Mr. Stewart became prominent in the national media particularly after Arizona signed the notorious immigration bill SB1070 into law. This is because Mr. Stewart is very outspoken in his desire for Virginia to follow in Arizona’s footsteps and pass nearly identical immigration legislation in the Commonwealth.
The particular legislation for which Mr. Stewart is advocating is called The Virginia Rule of Law Act. The Rule of Law Act would take a similar law that was passed in Prince William County in 2007, add a few new provisions to give it striking resemblance to Arizona’s SB1070, and make the entire Commonwealth of Virginia an unwelcoming place for immigrants, whether legal or illegal, to live. As is evident by the Act’s name, all this would be for the sake of upholding “the rule of law.”
Quotations marks are around “the rule of law” because I wonder what law(s) Mr. Stewart seeks to uphold? The growing consensus is that the current laws that make up our current immigration system are ineffective in promoting legal immigration into the United States. This is especially the case for unskilled immigrants who have no family relations in the US.
Furthermore, as Andrew Wainer discusses in his article “Settler, Immigrant, Alien,” laws change:
But even as fear of immigration grew, legal restrictions against the entry of Europeans were minimal, even for the poor. Ellis Island immigrants were so successful at adhering to U.S. immigration law largely because it barely existed. Of the 12 million immigrants who passed through Ellis Island, only 2 percent were denied entry to the United States. Upon arrival, the vast majority of immigrants — most of them poor and uneducated — spent several hours at Ellis Island before they were legally admitted to America.
The legality threshold for 19th- and 18th-century European immigrants is incomparable to the gauntlet of restrictions facing contemporary immigrants. The immigration bureaucracy has increased so that today’s immigrants—perhaps more educated and skilled than Europeans arriving a century ago—face unprecedented barriers. It can take years for a immigrant with family already in the United States to gain legal entry.
Mr. Wainer specifically demonstrates how laws concerning immigration have radically changed since our country’s beginnings. Often, these changes were a result of the exaggerated perception that the United States was subject to an “invasion” of immigrants of undesirable ethnicity and/or religion. As is common today, nativists during each previous episode of large flows of immigrants were inclined to blame these newcomers for causing an array of social ills. The result is that our immigration laws have become increasingly restrictive.
So, the question remains: Is it really worth passing an (immoral) law in Virginia that will further human suffering for the sole purpose of upholding a set of laws that are not properly functioning?
Yes, America is a country of laws. However, the purpose of these laws is to protect freedom, promote civil rights and equal treatment under the law, and to ensure that justice reigns throughout the land. When a set of laws fail to achieve these ideals, they must be challenged and changed. To uphold laws simply because they exist is short-sighted and can lead to unnecessary suffering or injustice.
In this spirit, I hope Virginians can see through the appeal to uphold “the rule of law,” oppose The Virginia Rule of Law Act, and continue to urge their elected officials to seek a comprehensive, and just, solution to the challenges facing our very broken immigration system.