Jewish World Review August 8, 2005 / 3 Av, 5765

Paul Greenberg

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The law is the law | The law is the law. And deserves respect. Let that much be said at the outset of this discussion. And at the end of it, too. At least that much should be clear.

But everything else about a raid on a poultry processing plant at Arkadelphia, Ark., the other day is a swirl of moral confusion. Not to say personal chaos and community disruption.

A total of 119 workers were picked up and arrested by the feds. At last count, 30 of their children were left behind, some just babies, one only 3 months old. But the law is the law.

You can imagine what's happened to the production schedule at the poultry plant; five of the processing lines usually in operation have been shut down. Another 60 workers haven't shown up since the raid, afraid they'll be deported, too.

All of that may be the least of the plant manager's concerns just now. Ronnie Farnam knows these people; he's worried about what's going to happen to them — and to their kids. Some of them, he reports, have worked at the plant for 10 years, and have children in the local schools. "I coached their daughters in softball," he told the reporter from the Associated Press.

A spokesperson for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in New Orleans said its agents asked those picked up if they had children, and at first none said they did. But is that any surprise?

If you were being busted and shipped back to Mexico, would you tell the arresting officers you had kids here? Of course not. At least that way the children might get to stay in America — with an aunt and uncle, maybe, or a neighbor . . . . That might be the best you could hope for, at least for now. The law is the law.

The sheriff of Clark County — Troy Tucker — is upset because he wasn't given advance notice about the raid in his county. His county. Sheriffs tend to be territorial creatures; they use the possessive when speaking of their jurisdictions. At least the best ones do. It's a sign they take personal responsibility for what goes on in, yes, their counties. But there was nothing the sheriff could do about it. The law is the law.

Arkadelphia's mayor, Charles Hollingshead, says the feds' not letting local authorities know about the raid beforehand was "the most tragic part of the whole thing . . . . (A) lot of those families had kids in daycare in different places, and they didn't know why mommy and daddy didn't come pick them up." But the law is the law.

Rudy Gutierrez is pastor of Primera Iglesia Bautista church in Arkadelphia. He got a call while the raid was in progress, and got to the plant in time to see all those folks, including some of his congregants, being rounded up and packed off to Texarkana, then maybe Mexico. He's helping many of the kids cope, as best he and they can. "Families are scared," he says. But the law is the law.

Governor Mike Huckabee, who has a personal tie with Arkadelphia, home of Ouachita Baptist University, his alma mater, doesn't sound happy about how the raid was conducted, either. After all, he's not only a governor but a preacher. And a family man. And, well, who would be happy about all the lives interrupted? Not even the immigration officials, surely, who were just doing their job. But the law is the law.

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Now and then, you hear people say the answer to this whole immigration mess is just to round up the illegals — all 11 million of them in this country, where they form the backbone of our agricultural and processing and service industries — and deport them. The law is the law. It's as simple as that.

If you want to know just how simple it would really be, imagine this scene in little ol' Arkadelphia, Ark., played out all over the country, with the chaos and confusion and disruption made national. But the law is the law. And deserves respect.

In that case, why not a better law? One worthy of respect.

The administration has been talking about such a law for a year. Or more. A bill already has been introduced in Congress. It would allow illegals to come out into the open, pay a fine, show they're respectable folks with clean records, and let them begin the long process of becoming first legal residents and then citizens — along with their children. They'd take their place in the long line behind legal applicants, which is only fair, and get to sign up for English language and citizenship lessons. So they could stop living in fear, and the rest of us in moral confusion.

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JWR contributor Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. Send your comments by clicking here.

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