Keeping Faith With The Constitution

Jul 3, 2018

Regardless of where we all stand on the politics of immigration, I hope we can all still agree that our constitution can act as a salve beyond party and dogma to bind up our wounds of division.

President Lincoln insisted that "We are not enemies, but friends ... Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.” And his appeal to “the better angels of our nature” has, at its heart, a collective belief that before the law we’re all equal and that due process and fundamental fairness are the bedrock of our country.

And this is my starting point to analyze the constitutional issues raised by deporting immigrants and separating families without trial or a judge. The US supreme court has consistently held that the fifth amendment protects due process and that under the first amendment, the rights to familial association are fundamental. To that extent, both rights demand heightened protection.

From a purely legal perspective, the basic premise that an undocumented person is, by default, guilty of a crime is a legal fiction. An immigrant who promptly requests refugee protections after crossing the border is protected by federal and international law, and treaties binding on the U.S.

While it may turn out that they don’t qualify for protection under these laws, they are entitled to the process set out by the law. And whether we agree with this or not, we can’t simply ignore it – or we risk running up against the US Constitution.

Recently, I told my young son that he couldn't climb so high in the Apple tree in our back yard because I feared he might hurt himself. Quoting verbatim from another venerable sage - not President Lincoln, but the fictional Star Wars character, Yoda - he responded that “fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering."

It was a timely reminder not to fear each other or lose faith in that unifying document that’s served, albeit imperfectly, as a bulwark against tyranny for nearly 230 yrs.

So this Fourth of July would be a good time to renew our faith in country and constitution - lest we fall onto the perilous path of fear and stray too far from the better angels of our nature.

Of course, I made my son get down anyway.