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Who:
What:
Where:
When:
A group of citizens (full disclosure: one of whom was my wife) asked the Carbondale City Council to
Chris Wissmann

A group of citizens (full disclosure: one of whom was my wife) asked the Carbondale City Council to adopt a measure that prohibits the use of city personnel or money— specifically through the police department— to help Immigration and Customs Enforcement round up or deport illegal immigrants.

Except in specific situations where violent criminals are involved, it’s a great idea.

That’s not to say that illegal immigration, as per liberal orthodoxy, is harmless or victimless, or that Donald Trump’s move to deport people who have illegally immigrated to the United States is wrong on its face.

Ours is a nation of laws. If we don’t agree with those laws, we must change them. Barring that, as the Trump administration certainly will, we must enforce them. That means, in part, deporting the people who have come here illegally.

The reasons for deporting everyday illegal immigrants, however, should not be punitive. Donald Trump’s claims— “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people”— are typically asinine, and his assertion that illegal immigrants have a propensity for violent crime is effortlessly debunked.

Illegal immigrants, however, are subject to horrible abuses in U.S. workplaces— sub-minimum wages and dangerous working conditions among them— because if they speak up or organize into labor unions, employers can retaliate by reporting them to the Immigration and Naturalization Service. (This, in turn, can depress wages of American citizens by creating unfair competition for jobs.) Allowing illegal immigrants to remain here under such conditions is no act of compassion.

Neither, however, is deporting people to nations ruined in large part by full-scale civil wars between fascist government despots and narcoterrorists or religious lunatics. Such dire circumstances could easily kill many people who wait at home while working through America’s slow, complicated immigration system. Little wonder that desperate people will break our laws to come here. We must exempt such refugees from deportation while they try to legitimize their residencies in the United States or elsewhere.

Thus, the real answer to our immigration challenge involves not large-scale deportation and wall construction, but a foreign policy that rewards those nations where people don’t wish to leave en masse. That means, rather than zeroing out foreign aid, helping to stabilize governments that foster peaceful civil societies and empower citizens with the same rights that Americans enjoy.

Meanwhile, however, reports of anti-immigrant violence, perhaps stoked by the cruel sentiments emanating from the White House and other government institutions, are bringing shame to other communities. Carbondale may suffer a serious backlash, though it is largely a welcoming, metropolitan community with significant philosophical and geographical distance between itself and, say, Kansas, where two Indian immigrants were shot.

SIU once boasted one of the largest international enrollments in America. It collapsed after 1992, when an arsonist’s fire killed foreign students at the old Pyramid Apartments. In recent years, however, international enrollment showed signs of slow recovery— a rare bright spot in SIU’s otherwise catastrophic twenty-six-year enrollment plummet.

Should international students— even those with legitimate visas— feel unsafe or unwelcome here, they will refuse to come.

That’s also going to be the case with the internationals SIU hopes to employ as professors or those Southern Illinois Healthcare recruits as physicians. Many local entrepreneurs, most visibly perhaps in the restaurant industry, are immigrants; certainly we should welcome more such investment and diversity in our local economy. And there are the tourists who just pass through, spending a little money here on their way.

These people immeasurably enrich our community— culturally, economically, educationally, medically, and in so many other ways. We cannot afford to lose them.

Of course, every university and municipality in the nation will also face this situation. Last Sunday, National Public Radio reported on a survey of two-hundred colleges that revealed a forty percent decline in applications from international students, for example. But while SIU, for whatever reason, chose not to declare itself a sanctuary campus, the city of Carbondale has a chance to show that it won’t participate in the bullying of its international residents by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

By passing the citizen proposal, Carbondale can stand out by publicly declaring itself as a community that welcomes and protects immigrants. It sends a signal that the people who come here will not get harassed by Carbondale police merely for looking different. This could help police establish relationships among immigrants, who may then feel safer about reporting crimes and cooperating in investigations. And in any event, the Carbondale police have more than enough to do without performing the federal government’s work for them.

 

Consequently, the citizen proposal strikes the right tone for Carbondale, and the city council should pass it.