I probably should have softened the language a bit, arguing that the threat of civil disobedience runs the risk of turning natural law into a cover for all sorts of defiance of positive law. I stand behind the thrust of my analysis and would continue to raise the following question. Does Cardinal Mahony think it should be a crime actually to assist people to cross the border illegally, regardless of one’s motives in so doing? It’s one thing to help out immigrants, no questions asked, who present themselves at your doorstep. It’s another altogether to help them into the country. I take it that everyone thinks the "coyotes" are despicable criminals. What if "well-intentioned humanitarians" got into the business, arguing that sneaking into the country is inevitable, that the border is a meaningless line anyway, that as citizens of the world, we should share our wealth and resources, and that decent folks would actually help, rather than exploit, the immigrants? I don’t know whether this is a fanciful scenario or not. I do know that Cardinal Mahony’s argument, surely unintentionally, worked to diminish the difference between compassionate humanitarians and human traffickers.
One could of course defend the Cardinal’s tactic by arguing that it was effective:
House Republicans also said yesterday they are committed to rewriting a section of their immigration bill that caused an uproar among religious and humanitarian leaders who say the law could be used to prosecute them if they unwittingly give food or shelter to someone who turns out to be an illegal alien.
Since the House passed its bill in December, Democrats have seized upon the criticism as another reason for opposing the border security legislation.
"It is certainly not in keeping with my understanding of the Scriptures, because this bill would literally criminalize the good Samaritan and probably even Jesus himself," Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat, said last month.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican, said the provision is aimed at the ruthless "coyotes" and "snake-heads" who smuggle people into the country.
"Since the House bill’s passage, many have misconstrued the House’s good-faith effort to bring human traffickers to justice as a way to criminalize humanitarian assistance efforts," Mr. Sensenbrenner and other Republican leaders wrote in a letter to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. "The House bill does no such thing, nor did it intend to."
Under current law, it is illegal to transport, harbor or conceal aliens and to encourage or induce them to remain in the United States. House Judiciary Republicans say courts have interpreted these laws broadly to mean "help or advise," and yet they have never been used to prosecute humanitarians.
"We can assure you, just as under current law, religious organizations would not have to ’card’ people at soup kitchens and homeless shelters under the House bill’s anti-smuggling provisions," Mr. Sensenbrenner wrote. "Prosecutors would no sooner prosecute good Samaritans for ’assisting’ illegal immigrants to remain in the U.S. under the House bill than they would prosecute such persons for ’encouraging’ illegal immigrants to remain in the U.S. under current law."
The aforementioned letter from Reps. Sensenbrenner, King, and Hyde can be found here. I think that it stacks up pretty well as an example of sober and prudent moral reasoning about a contentious political issue.
I also thank all my friends who took the time to look at my original piece and offer me their honest judgments about its tone and substance.
Update: Rob Vischer asks some interesting questions.