The Migration or Importation–or Deportation–of Such Persons

by Anthony Irizarry
The Migration or Importation–or Deportation–of Such Persons

Photo credit: Catholic News Service

Doctoral Student & Graduate Instructor, Dept. of Communication Arts & Sciences

June 21, 1788: The U.S. Constitution is ratified when New Hampshire becomes the ninth and last required state to approve it. Tucked away in Article I of this document, a compromise can be identified.

Article I, Section 9, Clause 1 reads as follows:

“The Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a Tax or duty may be imposed on such Importation, not exceeding ten dollars for Each Person.”

A compromise was struck in the name of unity between southern states and the infant nation. This compromise prevented federal interference in matters of the transatlantic slave trade for twenty uninterrupted years. In those twenty years, tens of thousands of Africans were imported into the fledgling nation.

Tens and tens of thousands. Compromise carries within it material consequences.

Fast forward 229 years.

May 7, 2017: Texas Senate Bill 4 is signed into law by Gov. Gregg Abbott. In that law, often called the “Sanctuary Cities Law,” rests another compromise between the states – Texas, in this case – and the federal government. The law mandates that local law enforcement cannot interfere with or hinder the progress of any federal investigation relating to immigration in the state of Texas.

The ethos of the law is similar to that of its federal predecessor, Article I, Section 9, Clause 1 of the U.S. Constitution. Yet the Texas Sanctuary Cities Law arguably blurs state and federal law. Using Article I, Section 9, Clause 1 as its point of departure, the Sanctuary Cities Law could very well read: “The Migration or Deportation of such Persons as the Federal State now existing shall think proper to admit or exclude, shall not be prohibited by the States.” Further, this Texas compromise does not have a twenty-year — or any — limit.

In the months since Texas Senate Bill 4 was signed into law, thousands of immigrant children have been separated and detained in Texas under federal orders — federal orders that cannot be disrupted by local or state law enforcement — federal orders that benefit from a compromise struck in the name of national unity.

Compromise once again carries within it material consequences.