Getting tough the wrong way

Monday, July 28, 2008

A get-tough policy toward illegal immigrants arrested at a meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa, has come under criticism by some who regard criminal prosecution of the workers as cruel and unwarranted. Of the 390 taken into custody, 306 have been charged with felonies -- aggravated identity theft and Social Security fraud.

We applaud the prosecution of two administrative employees of the meatpacking plant, both U.S. citizens, who have been charged with assisting illegal aliens in obtaining false identities. We have written before that the way to deter the hiring of illegal immigrants is to prosecute employers when a crime has been committed and to make civil penalties both much more severe and easier to implement.

But what about the immigrants themselves? Wouldn't prosecution and imprisonment be more effective than the past revolving door policy of simply sending them back when they get caught? Probably not. These people are desperately poor, so desperately poor that the threat of prison is not an effective deterrent. Again, we stress that the way to dry up demand is to impose severe penalties against employers.

The prosecution and imprisonment of the illegal immigrants arrested at Postville will cost millions of dollars. To make such prosecutions against immigrants a regular course of action nationwide would create massive expense for federal and local governments.

Some of those arrested who have children were temporarily released pending trial with the condition that they wear ankle bracelets to identify their whereabouts. Usually these are women whose husbands remain in jail.

The women and children have no income and are not eligible for federal aid. The only thing keeping them from starvation is the charity of local churches.

The best way to deal with these people is clearly to send them back where they came from.