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The Oregonian

Abandon the Concept of "Illegal" Alien

In a recent column ["Rethinking Deportation" Oregonian, January 23], Richard LaMountain denounced President Obama's proposed rule that would make it easier for illegal aliens to become legal residents, claiming it will undermine respect for law. But don't immoral rules also undermine respect for law?

What would satisfy people like LaMountain? Would it increase respect for law to load all 12 million illegals into boxcars and deport them, Stalin-like, to Mexico? Or would they prefer to let illegals stay in the U.S. as a permanent underclass, discriminated against by government and denied educational opportunities?

Did it increase respect for law when, in June 2009, a federal jury convicted Walt Staton of littering? His "littering" consisted of leaving jugs of fresh drinkable water in an area near the Mexican border for entering aliens who might otherwise have died from dehydration (as a great many indeed have).

The logic here was impeccable. If more illegal die from thirst, this will make crossing into the US less attractive and reduce the burden of policing the border. Similar logic led Congress to outlaw employment of illegals.

What next? Should we make it illegal to give or sell food to anybody who cannot document that they are a citizen or here with official government approval?

How about allowing or requiring everybody to shoot down undocumented people on the spot? Some soft-hearted Americans might feel this would be going too far.

I guess the real question is: Once we assume that such a category of people as "illegal aliens" is a legal and moral possibility, where do we draw the line in doing something about it?

An alternative which would not require us to draw any such line would be to abandon the whole concept of an illegal alien and regard every human being on the planet as a member of the human race and a citizen of the world. Inside the United States no matter what state we were born in, we automatically acquire state citizenship merely by moving there. Thus I was a citizen of Michigan for 36 years despite having been born in Oregon, and my wife is a citizen of Oregon despite her birth in Connecticut. There is no reason why this system could not work at the world level, and I am sure that at some future time we will have such a system.

In the meantime we have to live with a different system, but we need to recognize just how crazy this system is and the impossible choices with which it confronts us.

Christians, for example, including fundamentalists (perhaps especially fundamentalists!), need to think about the implications of their faith here:

"For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me ..." (Matthew 25:35)

Does anybody really want to live in a world where it is illegal to give a fellow human being a drink of water?

(Common Dreams Editor's note: This post has been updated to reflect the wishes of the author and changes to language made by CD staff have now been removed, returning the text to how it originally appeared in The Oregonian. )

Paul F. deLespinasse

Paul F. deLespinasse, who now lives in Oregon, is professor emeritus of political science at Adrian College in Michigan. He can be reached via his website,

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