At the Republican Presidential CNN/YouTube debate on Wednesday night, Mike Huckabee tried to explain a plan he introduced as governor of Arkansas to provide the children of undocumented immigrants a college education. He said:
Huckabee: I supported the bill that would’ve allowed those children who had been in our schools their entire school life the opportunity to have the same scholarship that their peers had, who had also gone to high school with them and sat in the same classrooms.
They couldn’t just move in in their senior year and go to college. It wasn’t about out of state tuition. It was an academic, meritorious scholarship called the Academic Challenge Scholarship.
Now, let me tell you a couple of provisions of it. And, by the way, it didn’t pass. It passed the House but got in the Senate and got caught up in the same kind of controversy that this country is caught up in.
And here’s what happened. This bill would’ve said that if you came here, not because you made the choice but because your parents did, that we’re not going to punish a child because the parent committed a crime.
That’s not what we typically do in this country.
I thought this was an interesting response because while Huckabee is trying to appeal to the better angels of our nature here, he is still getting some wrong. And probably deliberately, which is undocumented immigration is not a crime, its a civil violation. That is to say, unauthorized immigration to the United States, is not punishable through the U.S. criminal code.
In fact, deportation or removal proceedings are actually conducted in civil court, not criminal court.
But so many of us have had it beat into our heads that undocumented immigrants carry this aura of inherent criminality around them because all we here is illegal immigration, illegal immigration, illegal immigration, illegal immigration.
Even Republican front runner Rudy Guiliani got slaughtered by his base when he tried to inform people about this distinction.
And assuming that we could charged all immigrants without papers or who are unauthorized with criminal charges, that would lead to a administrative nightmare that would do more harm than good. Our courts could not handle those cases and there is no where near the manpower to conduct mass deportation. Not to mention families would be broken apart and many of those charged would be detained almost indefinitely while the government figures out what to do with them.
Some of this is obviously already happening.
Of course, some people may think this is a mere semantic distinction, but its not. Its about trying to think straight about a problem before it gets worse.