Illegal Immigration and a Conservative Catch-22

Circa 1991, playing in the barn at my grandparent’s home near Randolph Air Force Base outside of San Antonio, Texas, I saw an old mattress and pallets of blankets laid out on the dirt in an interior area of the barn.  This was a surprise, as the barn had long been out of use for anything more than a storage area for old rusted junk, with the exception of the coop at its front that housed the chickens when they weren’t out pecking alongside the goats. 

In my ten-year-old mind, the building as a whole was an uncomfortable place full of wasps, spiders, and snakes (to say nothing of the unbearable heat), and I couldn’t imagine anyone would sleep in there.  When I told my mom about it, she told me that a Mexican family had been staying in the barn.  Grandma brought leftover food to them from time to time, and during the day they typically were gone, but just came there to sleep.  “How could they sleep in there?” I wondered.  She explained that they didn’t have anywhere else to go, and that they didn’t want to be caught or they would be taken back to Mexico.

This was my first recollection of dealing with the quandary which reality has forced me to consider ever since.  “Why didn’t grandma and grandpa let them come stay in the house instead of that old barn?” I thought at the time.  And even then, I knew the answer, evident in my slight apprehension in going to bed knowing that fugitives we did not know could be hunkering down so near us in the evening.  I remember feeling terrible for the children who might be with them, but recognizing the reality that my poor grandparents could not simply take them in and care for them indefinitely.  (“Poor” is relative these days.  They weren’t terribly so, but suffice it to ask, have you ever bathed with a bucket and a rag?)

So what to do with such people? 

I don’t know what came of that family. But I know that the early contemplation of that question has helped to shape my worldview to this day, and still raises questions for me.  Should my grandmother, a legal U.S. citizen born in Mexico and perhaps understandably having sympathy for their plight, have called the police?  Maybe.  But ultimately, the conclusion I have reached is that she was right in both helping them subsist while they were there, and by not offering them an indefinite stay at a place in which they did not belong.

For this reason, I have been somewhat confused by the conservative ire rising as a result of leading conservative figures going to the border to assist church groups in delivering relief.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m a bit suspicious of any high profile figure touting charitable efforts in such a widely publicized manner -- especially when claiming a Christian impetus to do so.  Citing Matthew 6:2-5:  “When you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men.  But when you give to the poor… your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” 

But can we truly denounce Ted Cruz, Glenn Beck, or Dana Loesch for efforts to help the poor souls that were sent north of our border, many of whom were sent absent their consent?

What is the alternative?  Ms. Loesch remarks, presumably speaking of an illegal alien at the border, that she will “give you a sandwich,” but she will “wave good-bye to you as the bus drives you home.”  So she is for the deportation of lawbreakers, but she is also against human suffering.  This has conservatives questioning the intent due to the political optics involved.  But why can we not be for upholding the law and against human suffering simultaneously?

This seems to be the catch-22 we conservatives encounter today.  We are for deportation and the upholding of federal immigration laws.  That is only right, and a position with which 77% of Americans agree.  Only stalwart Democrat figureheads like Nancy Pelosi and their staunchest supporters tend to disagree, signifying not only their very selective adherence to principle of democratic majority opinion on such matters, but, of Mrs. Pelosi in particular, the even more selective invocation of Christian principles as they should be applied in law, given her support of abortions on-demand and the taxpayer subsidized access to them.  

Providing humanitarian relief while calling for federal enforcement at the border and deportations does not equate to a “moderate” or “pandering” position, however.  Americans, and not necessarily limited to those of a Christian persuasion, have deeply embedded moral compasses (primarily derived from Christian dogma as implemented in our laws and culture, irrespective of where they believe they can source their beliefs) that demand caring for the destitute among us.

As a matter of optics, therefore, there is little we can do to more effectively stymie the broad public outcry for law enforcement and deportation than by appearing disinterested in the welfare of those unfortunate illegals that have arrived at our borders.  Yet when conservative leaders and pundits take the position that they support law enforcement and deportation while proclaiming a genuine desire to provide immediate help to those in need, the perception is that a schism is created within the base.  Some conservatives will take these acts of charity as a “moderate” or “pandering” position, and some among the base may become so disenchanted with our leadership that millions of conservatives will have something better to do than vote in the fall. At least that’s what Democrats are hoping.

I’m not suggesting that all conservatives be of like minds to rally around a banner in November.  Dissent and debate within our ranks can be an energizing force, and, ironically in contrast to ‘progressives” which tend to march in lock-step with the Democrat drumbeat leading up to and through campaign seasons, honest dissent and debate leads to reasonable outcomes and actual progress.

But there can be no denying that Democrats have taken notice of how prone we conservatives are to attack one another based upon political optics, thinking that our tendency to do so gives them a decided upper hand come election season.

And that is the hand Barack Obama and Democrats are now playing, hoping to trap Republicans like John Boehner in yet another perceived catch-22 predicated on the optics surrounding the illegal immigration issue.  Some have noted that by Barack Obama’s obvious executive overreach, such as his plan to singularly grant amnesty to five million illegal aliens, he is begging to be impeached, knowing what a rallying cry it would be for the Democrat faithful if the first black president were so challenged.  But on the flipside, if Boehner and the Republicans refuse to impeach him for the infraction, it will signify weakness and therefore split or disillusion the conservative voting bloc.  So in the Democrats’ view, Republicans are damned if they support impeachment over the coming immigration edicts, and damned if they don’t.  Given public opposition to their platform, it’s their only play.

There is a viable solution, however, and given that we conservatives are all too often accused of not offering solutions to counter the wild policy transformations offered by Democrats, I feel inclined to offer one to Republicans: 

Focus on increased enforcement at the border and the deportation of those illegally here.  Enforcement of the law is not a subversive position.  However, Democrats’ refusal to enforce the law, a touchstone feature of the Obama administration’s immigration policy, is.  Bolstering border security is likewise entirely prudent given the extent to which it has been circumvented, and the deportation of lawbreakers is wildly popular among American citizens.  These immigrants, and particularly the children, should be cared for, not extravagantly in consideration to taxpayers, but as soon as humanly possible they should be returned to their country of origin. And as rapidly as we can do so, border security measures should be ramped up so that they cannot illegally return.  This will cauterize the influx of illegal immigrants, and they can then remain in their countries of origin and better their lives by challenging their corrupt governments, or they will have the opportunity to immigrate here via legal avenues in the future -- the terms of which we will discuss in accordance with our sovereign right and in the proper arena: legislative debate.

Despite the perception of conservatives being caught by catch-22 on this issue, a very clear balance can be struck between adherence to law (a very popular position) and humanitarian concern (also very popular).  That balance is what we should seek.  We should not entirely forego one to promote the other.    

William Sullivan blogs at: and can be followed on Twitter.