Bill O’Reilly Needs to Know the Law Before Reforming It

Fox’s Bill O’Reilly is positioning himself as a Great Compromiser on immigration policy. But if the influential Papa Bear is going to have credibility in the debate, he needs a better understanding of immigration law than he displayed last night in a conversation with immigration hawk Laura Ingraham.

Said O’Reilly: “You know as well as I do that it’s not a criminal offense to overstay your visa or sneak across the border. It’s a civil offense.”

Well, that’s half right. Overstaying a visa is indeed a civil offense. That’s not the case with sneaking across the border, which is a criminal offense. It is a federal misdemeanor, as a visit to 8 U.S. Code § 1325 will show. The heading for this section is “Improper entry by alien.” It begins:

Any alien who

(1) enters or attempts to enter the United States at any time or place other than as designated by immigration officers, or
(2) eludes examination or inspection by immigration officers, or
(3) attempts to enter or obtains entry to the United States by a willfully false or misleading representation or the willful concealment of a material fact, shall, for the first commission of any such offense, be fined under title 18 or imprisoned not more than 6 months, or both, and, for a subsequent commission of any such offense, be fined under title 18, or imprisoned not more than 2 years, or both.
[emphasis added]

Having made that point, I want to add another one. I think O’Reilly is on to something important with his argument that because the federal government was “derelict” for decades in enforcing immigration law at the border and at the workplace, efforts to reform immigration policy should consider the government’s complicity in the growth of illegal immigration. That complicity was the result of political pressure by powerful economic interests, especially growers in the South and Southwest, who persuaded their friends in Congress and elsewhere in the government to ensure that there was enough illegal immigration to satisfy their appetite for cheap, easily exploited labor.

The evidence of the complicity is plentiful. Here’s one example. It’s the lead of a New York Times story from August 9, 1951:

Three United States Immigration and Naturalization Service officers charged today that a powerful “pressure group” of farmers annually was forcing suspension of law enforcement against illegal Mexican immigrants in order to get cheap labor.

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