…with liberty and justice for all.
So ends the American Pledge of Allegiance. The concept of justice is deeply ingrained within the American mindset. We have always been, or aspired to be, a nation of just and fair law. Our Constitution guarantees equal treatment under the law and we strive, though imperfectly at times, to live up to that ideal. So important is this principle that it is enshrined in the form of Lady Justice—blind to the individual—at countless courthouses throughout the nation, including the very Supreme Court itself.
We are also, however, a deeply religious people. While the principle of justice can certainly be found in our Judaeo-Christian heritage and philosophy, there are other important ideals to be found therein as well. One in particular is at odds with justice: compassion. Christians in particular often struggle with this apparent dichotomy. Christ embodied compassion—feeding the hungry, healing the sick, forgiving sins. His was an example we must emulate. Too often forgotten, or simply ignored, is the fact that He also personally meted out punishment—most famously when He violently drove swindlers out of the temple. How can we then, as a society, reconcile compassion and justice?
This debate rages fiercely today in the arena of illegal immigration. Many argue that the majority of illegal immigrants are simply desparately poor people who see no hope in their homelands and are attracted to America by the prospect of a better life—and are willing to work hard for it. Personally, I believe this to be true. Despite its flaws, America is still the greatest land of opportunity on the planet—a refuge from tyranny, persecution, poverty, and hopelessness. The argument concludes that, because of their plight, we should show compassion and allow them to stay. This, unfortunately, is a fallacious understanding of compassion.
Consider the bigger picture—the larger consequences of such “compassion.” In this instance, to show compassion—as it is depicted—is to necessarily introduce injustice and incompassion. The massive influx of illegal immigrants across our borders places an increasing and unfair burden on taxpayers—our law-abiding residents—in the form of social services, medical care, and educational expenses. At some point this burden becomes too great, and we see its effects most clearly in overloaded school systems and the growing number of county and municipal hospitals which are closing emergency rooms or declaring bankruptcy. More importantly, allowing illegals to stay creates injustice toward two very important groups: those who have immigrated legally, and those who are waiting—in increasingly long lines—their turn to do so. Why should illegal immigrants be granted the same, or even similar, priviliges as those who follow the law? This is inherently both unjust and incompassionate toward the latter.
Compassion certainly has a valuable place in our society, but it must not come at the expense of justice—of fairness. Our hearts cannot be blind to the individual, but the law must be or it has no meaning. Compassion should justly be shown to the law-abiding rather than the law-breaking.