Collective Punishment Passes House: The Downward Spiral Continues

I’ve reached the point at which I’m less troubled by the outrages that are being reported than by those that are going unnoticed.

There’s been extensive coverage of the Republican health care proposal, and appropriately so. It’s an outrage that a major political party is pushing legislation that would place critical health care beyond the reach of millions in order to fund a tax cut for billionaires.

It’s chilling to see so many politicians willing to send Americans to avoidable death in order to confer additional wealth on a group of already very wealthy people. Chilling, yes, and perhaps more extreme than past measures, but it’s nothing new. For decades now, our leaders on both sides of the aisle have been all too willing to sacrifice the well-being of the many in an effort pamper the few.

Barely covered, however, was a House vote in favor of what really is a form of collective punishment, with many Democrats, including Kyrsten Sinema and Tom O’Halleran, joining the Republicans. That is an outrage of immense proportion. Yet most Americans are unaware.I’m referring to a measure commonly known as Kate’s law, named for Kate Steinle, who was brutally murdered by an undocumented immigrant.

In an appeal to the basest instincts of Americans, Trump campaigned on his proposal to impose harsh punishment on all immigrants who are caught crossing the border a second time without documentation, because Steinle’s murderer had done so.

Trump’s proposal was no more logical than sentencing people who wear hats to prison because a disproportionate number of bank robbers wear hats. It went without saying that millions of dimwitted Americans would buy in to Trump’s proposal. But our Congressional leaders are supposed to be better than that.

Sadly, they’re not. They voted overwhelmingly for a measure that would impose absurdly harsh punishment on people whose “crime” was crossing a border without the required paperwork.

Make no mistake. This is a step down a slippery slope that ends with mass atrocities. Yes, crossing the border illegally is a crime, but it’s a crime only because it is defined as such, not because it involves conduct that is inherently wrong, like murder, for example. What the House did was to pass a measure that would impose punishment not justified by the gravity of the conduct, but by the fear, irrational as it may be, that those who engage in this conduct we’ve defined to be wrong are more likely to later engage in conduct that is inherently wrong.

If this measure can win approval, how far are we from, say, associating the status of being Muslim with a higher likelihood of engaging in terrorism? Could we then punish law-abiding Muslims based on the likelihood of their future wrongful acts? Seems we could. And we’ve done so before. During WWII, we sent Japanese Americans to internment camps, based only on their national origin and our decision to associate that national origin with the likelihood of future wrongful conduct.

But it gets worse. When sane voices on social media criticized Sinema and O’Halleran for their cowardly votes, the “it’s a tough district” chorus was singing as loudly as ever.

Which means Americans can be divided into three groups: a large group that’s okay with collective punishment; another group that doesn’t approve of collective punishment, but isn’t willing to rise up against it; and a small minority willing to speak out against it.

This won’t end well.

10 Responses to Collective Punishment Passes House: The Downward Spiral Continues

  1. John Smith

    What an utter ridiculous piece. The analogies are strained to say the least. Punishing illegal alien convicted felons for sneaking (illegally) back into our country is the same as punishing hat wearers because bank robbers where hats? Really? You can’t see the cause and effect relationship to crime in this country and illegal alien criminals is a bit more direct than the utterly meaningless relationship of wearing hats compared to robbery? Slippery slope arguments are really an unintelligent man’s way of making a point when he has no opinion with an iota of merit.

  2. Sen. John Kavanagh

    So what should the penalty be for a recidivist illegal entrants? Or do you belive that we should scrap our immigration laws, laws written by such Democrat icons as Ted Kennedy. Laws that are fair and reasonable.

    • John, the mere act of being here without documentation is not criminal, so I think your use of the term “recidivist” misses the mark. Nonetheless, the problem to which you refer already is addressed in the law, with penalties of up to two years’ imprisonment. I personally think that’s too harsh, but that’s not the issue I addressed. The issue is whether we should try to correlate a relatively minor act with the likelihood of later engaging in a heinous act, as a justification for punishing the minor act as if it by itself were heinous. When you do that, you open the door to collective punishment.

  3. “This is a step down a slippery slope that ends with mass atrocities.”

    Bob, you have been predicting mass atrocities for a long time now and there still hasn’t been any movement in that direction. I think that, collectively, we have more concience than you are willing to give us credit for.

    “During WWII, we sent Japanese Americans to internment camps, based only on their national origin and our decision to associate that national origin with the likelihood of future wrongful conduct.”

    And as a nation we have agonized over that mistake ever since. The lessons learned from that stupid decision weighs heavily on us to this day. I seriously doubt anything similar is likely to occur again in the near future.

    “Which means Americans can be divided into three groups: a large group that’s okay with collective punishment…”

    I don’t think that group is near as large as you are hoping it is. It is a noisy group, to be sure, but it is not very large.

    • Lessons learned?

      In one of Thom Hartmann’s books, I forget which one but am pretty sure it’s either the most recent or second most recent, he identifies what he calls the great forgetting, a phenomenon where every 70 years or so we forget the mistakes of the past and make similar mistakes. An example might be the Great Depression, circa 1930, and the repeal of Glass Steagall, 2000. In another decade, very few living Americans will have a memory of the internment camps.

      “We” didn’t have a collective conscience in the past. “We” elected a President who directly preyed on Americans’ fears and prejudices.

      As for “movement in that direction,” I think I just identified it in this piece. Another example would be the so-called Muslim ban. No, Steve, the “movement” is not going to be a direct jump to Muslims being required to wear armbands. We ignore the early warning signs at our peril.

  4. For Sure Not Tom

    The law says that if someone who has previously been deported is caught in the US again, they can go to prison for up to 10 years.

    At $30,000.00 per year per prisoner, one immigrant could cost the taxpayer up to $300,000.00.

    $300,000.00 dollars to keep someone in the country that you didn’t want in the country.

    Wow. What a monumentally stupid law.

    There are hundreds of thousands of people who leave and come back maybe more. I’ve know a few dozen when I was younger.

    It seems like it would be cheaper to just lock up the CEO’s of agriculture companies who advertise for workers south of the border, or to lockup the CEO of the hotel chain who hires immigrant workers, or the owner of the car wash down the street.

    I bet if we start locking up rich people we’d get some immigration reform fast!

    Oh, wait, forgot, Trump hires thousands of undocumented immigrants and so do his wealthy supporters.

    So I guess I’ll just say…..

  5. bob my understanding of this bill is you had to commit some crime other then deportation to be affected by this law. was it changed?

  6. I agree, and I reposted.