Steven R. Rothman
Steven R. Rothman

Defend Our Borders, But Keep Our Values

The US Constitution prohibits the removal of illegal immigrants from America without due process. US law and every major faith on Earth also require that we welcome the stranger seeking asylum.

It is important to remember these facts when one considers the message sent out by President Trump this past Sunday. As the Washington Post reported, while being driven from the White House to his Virginia golf course, the President tweeted:

“When somebody comes in, we must immediately, with no Judges or Court Cases, bring (sic) them back from where they came. Our system is a mockery to good immigration policy and Law and Order.”

I guess someone forgot to inform Trump that it is settled Constitutional Law in the United States that our Founders intended due process protections for illegal immigrants and asylum-seekers who land on our soil.

US Supreme Court cases going back 115 years, as accepted by conservative and liberal justices alike, have held that the Constitution requires that “…. immigrants….once passed through our gates, even illegally, may be expelled only after proceedings conforming to traditional standards of fairness encompassed in due process of law.”

Justices Antonin Scalia, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Clarence Thomas, John Paul Stevens, Sandra Day O’Connor and Anthony Kennedy, among many others, have accepted that proposition.

Now don’t get the justices wrong.  They all say that the Constitution is not “…a suicide pact.”  They all acknowledge that we cannot admit everyone who wants to come to the United States.  They all want our borders to be secure and our immigration laws to be enforced.

Also, on the subject of asylum, the UN’s 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, adopted by the US in 1968, states that people fleeing from persecution and physical harm shall be welcomed, though allowing for a reasonable and humane process to determine if their claims are real. This follows the requirement of every major world religion that those seeking asylum from persecution, torture, or death shall not be turned away.

Thus, since 1968, no children were separated from their parents in the United States during the consideration of those asylum applications — until President Donald Trump’s Administration announced the change in US policy on April 6, 2018.  Fortunately, under extraordinary pressure from the American People, Trump announced on June 18th that he was ending that policy.

But now Trump doesn’t even want any of those illegal immigrants, asylum-seekers or not, to be given consideration of their cases at all. He wants them to be summarily removed, without due process.

While many bemoan the cost of detaining these undocumented people and caring for their children until a fair hearing, that is what our U.S. Constitution and our religious traditions require.

But that doesn’t mean that we must spend exceptional amounts of money creating detention centers for all those who are undeterred.   Alternatives to incarceration, for non-dangerous illegals, like ankle bracelets and turning those individuals over to faith groups who will take responsibility for them until their cases are adjudicated, can and have saved many millions of dollars. We can use those savings for detention facilities that are truly needed and to add to our border security.

In addition, increased aid to Central American countries and Mexico, to help those at the mercy of drug cartels and criminal gangs, would be an important investment to slow the march of desperate people towards the US border.

Trump’s lies about illegal immigrants and crime must also be addressed. Overwhelming research has shown that undocumented immigrants are much less likely to commit violent crimes (murder, rape, armed robbery, and assault) and property crimes, than native-born citizens. Even conservative think tanks, such as The Cato Institute, acknowledge that immigrants are committing less violent crimes, drug and alcohol offenses than people born in the U.S.

As long as he is president, Trump will try to remake America in his callous, unconstitutional and irreligious image, with Congress’ help.  But we can deny him that opportunity.

In the upcoming November elections, the American People can cast aside those members of congress who are determined to support every one of Trump’s policies.

The challenge of illegal immigration into the United States is not new and will continue. We must defend our borders. But we must never forsake our fundamental laws and values.

Steven R. Rothman, Englewood, is a Democrat and the former US congressman who represented New Jersey’s 9th Congressional District from 1997 to 2013.

About the Author
Hon. Steven R. Rothman served eight terms in the U.S. House of Representatives representing the 9th Congressional District of New Jersey (1997 to 2013). He is an attorney of 43 years and formerly served as the Bergen County Surrogate Court Judge and Englewood Mayor. He resides in Englewood, New Jersey.