Opinion: On immigration, the president is not conservative

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.


Email This Story






Back to Article
Back to Article

Opinion: On immigration, the president is not conservative

The main mantra of American conservatism is that the success of our country and our culture is not an accident of history, but an outgrowth of a particular moral tradition that all of us, having been made in the same divine image, are equal in value at birth. 

It does not seem terribly dignifying to that image to lock up those who bear it in cages, to take away their babies and to deprive them of hygienic necessities for 40-plus days as punishment for the grave error of attempting to seek asylum in the most free and charitable nation in the history of the world. Yet, the leader of the free world and the head of a nation founded by men of many nations has opposed, in both his rhetoric and his policy, the humanitarian cause of asylees seeking freedom from persecution. On the issue of immigration, the president is anything but conservative. 

Defenses of the president’s immigration agenda tend to focus on the importance of the rule of law. Child detention and family separation, the line usually goes, may be morally unpalatable, but they are necessary for stability. This argument suffers from two errors.

First, the rule of law only supports stability inasmuch as it maintains morality; we cannot have one without the other. To use the rule of law to defend injustice actually promotes instability. Martin Luther King Jr., citing such members of the moral tradition as St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, defined an unjust law as a rule that members of a majority were willing to impose on others without being willing to impose it on themselves. Who among the president’s supporters would be willing to trade places with the parents and children for whom their ideology does not make room?

By imposing differential treatment and assigning differential value on the basis of national origin, the president’s policies encourage a disintegration of the social fabric that holds all Americans together by virtue of our shared belief that, despite our differences, we are all of equal worth.

The second issue with the supposedly conservative defense of President Trump’s immigration agenda is that the president does not actually support the rule of law; rather, his recent call to overrule the Flores settlement, a court agreement that limits the amount of time that a minor can spend in immigration custody, betrays a suspicion of the notion that everyone is innocent until proven guilty. The only reason that the administration would want to indefinitely detain an immigrant child is if it assumes that the child’s parents will be denied asylum and subsequently deported. This assumption runs directly contrary to the standard of presumption of innocence, a standard which conservatives value and to which the president has rightly appealed during his own legal battles.

A truly conservative immigration agenda would favor assimilation over exclusion for immigrants, many of whom have fled persecution to come to America with the same yearning for freedom that led each of our ancestors here. On the contrary, to support the president’s agenda of child detention and family separation is to repudiate the same intellectual heritage that conservatives credit for our progress and prosperity.