John McCain made headlines last week for a contentious town meeting where immigration policy was discussed. The Arizona Republic reported on one statement that I thought was interesting:
During his at-times raucous town-hall-style meeting in Sun Lakes last week, U.S. Sen. John McCain compared immigrants now in the United States illegally to traffic speeders, saying they should be allowed to get straight with the law by paying a penalty and taking other steps.
“All of us, from time to time, I think with rare exception, unfortunately, have broken the law,” McCain, R-Ariz., on Tuesday told the crowd of more than 150 people in the retirement community near Chandler. “Mine was while driving an automobile at an excessive speed. I paid a fine. I paid a fine. I had to go to (traffic) school. Some of us might remember that experience.”
I've made this point over the years that the simple answer to those who say we can't reward lawbreakers is to agree and simply note that in America we believe in the principle that the punishment should fit the crime. Is violating immigration law something that should be dealt with by charging people significant fines, forcing them to pay back taxes, requiring them to learn English and making them get to the back of the line for green cards enough? Or do we have to instead mandate exile.
McCain's analogy is helpful because it reminds people that there are alternative forms of punishment available that will help us better assess the problem. Maybe the analogy can be taken a step further by asking whether we should suspend the driver's licenses and impound the cars of speeders? Arguably, that would make the roads safer and would have a huge deterrent effect. But I doubt that's the kind of society in which we want to live. I'm not saying we should never deport people. But we should at least have the possibility of alternative punishments for less serious immigration violators who can otherwise meet a functional immigration system's reasonable visa requirements.