If you were scouring the Sunday Newspapers yesterday for a word of criticism of the Government’s plan to give an amnesty, and path to citizenship, to thousands of illegal immigrants, you will have been disappointed. Pieces like that do not tend to make the Irish newspapers. Part of it, of course, is the fear that most of our friends in the media have of saying a cross word about migration, lest they be denounced as racists. Part of it is that immigration does not have any negative impacts on the kinds of places that journalists live. Part of it is a simple bias towards the underdog – the poor migrant, just trying to make a life for themselves.
You might think, therefore, that there are no grounds on which to criticise the Government’s Amnesty plan. But that is not true.
What Ireland is doing, as the headline says, is an admission of failure.
In the first instance, it is an admission of failure to control our borders and police our existing immigration laws. The fact that over twenty thousand people are inside our borders illegally, having either entered unlawfully, or stayed unlawfully, says that the Government has completely and totally failed to effectively police the immigration system.
In fact, the most obvious question about this Amnesty plan is this: Where is the accompanying commitment to tighten our border security so that we do not just have to do the same thing again in a few years?
After all, if you are someone now who lives overseas and is looking for a place to make a new home, hasn’t Ireland just become more attractive? Haven’t we just sent out a message that if you come here, unlawfully, and break our laws, you will be rewarded for it, rather than punished?
In the second instance, it is a complete failure of our legal immigrant community. Somebody who immigrates legally to Ireland must pay registration fees, visa fees, secure the correct documents, and generally go through the torturous process that will be familiar to any Irish person who’s ever had to deal with an arm of the state. Those people obeyed the law, and paid what they were expected to pay, and now, well, more fool them.
In the third instance, it is a moral failure, because it rewards lawbreaking.
There is no other law in Ireland, after all, which you can reasonably hope to break, and then have the Government allow you to retain the proceeds of your lawbreaking. If you rob a bank, there is no scheme whereby you can go to the Government, admit your crime, and be allowed to keep the money you took. What this immigration amnesty does is exactly that: These people came into the country illegally, ahead of others who might have wished to come here legally, and now the Government is saying to them “well done, you get to stay”.
That undermines the entire point of having immigration laws in the first place.
Of course, there are human considerations, and it’s important to remember that: Some of these people will have children, born here, for example, whose illegal status is not their fault, but the fault of their parents. The problem here is twofold: First, the Irish people, in 2002, made very clear in a democratic vote that they did not wish for children to be used as an excuse to parents to stay here illegally. One might argue (and indeed the political establishment is convinced) that the voters got that one wrong, but it was their express view, nonetheless, and this is a democracy.
Second, the welfare of children is not an excuse we use to decline to enforce any other law. The above mentioned bank robber, for example, will go to prison whether he or she has children at home, or not. In fact, families are often casualties of criminality: A person who runs afoul of the law in Ireland, or any other democracy, will often inflict secondary damage onto their family and loved ones through their actions, when they are caught. Immigration offences are the only category of offence where the state takes the position that the offender’s family trumps the public’s right to see justice done.
The final point in all this is a simple one: We are rewarding immigration crimes without asking for anything in return. In the USA, for example, even the most liberal, left wing proposals to regularise illegal immigrants call for those immigrants to make restitution for their actions by paying a large fine, and back taxes, for their right to remain. Why won’t we do this in Ireland? Society might blanche at deporting somebody who has lived here illegally for fifteen years, but if we value our citizenship and our country, then surely it’s not too much to ask them to pay a fine and do community service in return for having their record expunged, and a right to residency granted?
A scheme like that would demonstrate to the Irish public, and prospective lawbreakers alike, that the country takes its own immigration laws seriously.
But the truth, of course, is that the Government does not take our citizenship or immigration laws seriously. It regards them as something of an embarrassment, and it is behaving as if it is the Irish people who should apologise to illegal immigrants for having those immigration laws in the first place.
It is not unreasonable, or racist, or bigoted, to be annoyed about that. It’s just logical.