The American Les Miserables

Published 10:03 am Friday, February 24, 2017

In his towering novel of the tormented life of Jean Valjean, Victor Hugo traced the life of a man who stole a loaf of bread. Valjean served 19 years in prison for that crime and his attempts to escape to be reunited with his family, only to find, once free, that he had to conceal his identity to find work. Through his later life, Valjean did contribute compassionately, as a citizen and a patron of those in need. But, nevertheless, his protagonist, the policeman Javert, chased Valjean in the service of the law throughout Valjean’s life.

Valjean was a lawbreaker you see, for concealing his identify, and the law is, after all, the law. No matter the circumstances, the law must come first or what society can we have? The French struggle with this issue was confronted by Hugo; the American struggle is just beginning, as we struggle with illegal immigration and justice. Perhaps the struggle is also about freedom and fear.

The Trump administration has issued new rules to U.S. Immigration officials, rules that would encourage deportation for illegals who commit crimes, who break any law, no matter how minor, or are accused of any illegal act. In short, the ICE officials have been told to, paraphrased, “round them up and send them home.”

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The justifications are, on their face, compelling. After all, as the president says, our southern border is out of control and needs a huge fence to prevent the nation being overrun by illegals.

Except, according to Pew Research, since 2010, there has been a negative flow across the border, with more people heading south in Mexico than north into the U.S. Facts run into rhetoric here, and, for some Americans, the rhetoric wins the argument. But make no mistake, this claim is a lie.

Then, too, those coming here are rapists and murderers, again according to the president. But his relationship with the facts is sorely challenged with this claim. The American Immigration Council reports that, statistically, a smaller percentage of illegal Immigrants are in prison than native born Americans. And their crimes are largely drug crimes, not rape and murder. But if you want to demonize The Other, what better idea than to name them as dangerous criminals?

The illegal immigrants are criminals just by being in the U.S. How can one refute this charge? It is simply a fact. Yes, it is a fact, just as Jean Valjean stealing bread was a crime, one he paid for many, many years later. So when is the bill paid? When is one initial crime satisfied by a productive life, a strong family, the payment of taxes, and the calluses of a life of hard work enough to settle the debt? Never? Is it like the loaf of bread, the single act can never bring restoration or forgiveness?

And then come the other lies:

The illegals get welfare and food stamps. They do not, those benefits are not available to illegal immigrants.

Most of them are illegal. No, they are not. Of 41 million foreign born people in the US, 30 million are naturalized citizens.

They should get in “line” to become citizens like everyone else. Unfortunately, there is no “line” for poor people with limited job skills, no path to naturalization.

They refuse to become “true Americans” and learn English. First generation immigrants never master a new language, but nearly half speak acceptable English according to the Migration Policy Institute.

They do not pay taxes. Actually, in 2013, Social Security reported they paid $13 billion in payroll taxes alone.

If you want to send 11 million Americans away, then simply argue for that. But if you want to justify your actions behind a screen of necessity, the facts provide you no cover at all. The facts are not your friends.

If hate and fear drive you, then they do. This administration seems to welcome your fear and desires to feed it well.

But which should you fear more…The Other…or the police state?


Jim Crawford is a retired educator and political enthusiast living here in the Tri-State.