Dissent: Border Law Basics

The U.S. government should not defend the hikers’ illegal immigration

Under the Federal Immigration and Nationality Act, illegal immigration to the U.S. is punishable by deportation, and anyone who aids or abets illegal immigrants in working and residing in the U.S. is subject to fines, imprisonment, and forfeiture of vehicles and property used to commit the crime. Sixty-eight percent of Americans believe that “immigration reform should primarily move in the direction of stricter enforcement of laws against illegal immigration,” according to a September Quinnipiac University poll. No matter how one thinks illegal immigrants should be treated once in the U.S., most Americans can agree that the act of entering a country without the proper legal permits is, in fact, a crime.

This is something that the three American hikers who crossed into Iran illegally should have known, and their ignorance or negligence of commonplace international law should not jeopardize the ongoing delicate geopolitical negotiations between America and Iran. Therefore, the American government should not have demanded the release of Sharon E. Shourd and her companions, but should have sufficed itself with insisting that they be detained in a humane way.

Shourd and her hiking companions, Shane M. Baeur and Joshua F. Fattal, were hiking in the mountains of Northern Iraq when arrested. Anyone who travels to another country is responsible for obeying its laws, and the hikers should have had adequate maps or technology with them. Assuming that the three are not American spies as some Iranian politicians have claimed, the travelers should have been more vigilant about where they were hiking. In such dangerous territory, they had a legal responsibility to be especially careful.

Protesting the Iranian government’s strict policing of its border with a troublesome neighbor is not just hypocritical on the U.S.’s part but also detrimental to the integrity of the relationship between the two countries. The U.S. was a main proponent of the new round of United Nations sanctions that were placed on Iran in June. At the time, President Barack H. Obama remarked, “The Iranian government must understand that true security will not come through the pursuit of nuclear weapons. True security will come through adherence to international law and the demonstration of its peaceful intent.” Why should Iran be humbled by the citation of international law in one case if the U.S. chooses to argue outside of it in another?

It is understandable that the American government is worried about the conditions of its citizens at the hands of an antagonist, and nothing should stop the White House from demanding humane treatment for its citizens abroad, in line with international human-rights law. However, some individuals will always take unconscientious actions that jeopardize larger geopolitical goals. In March 2009 two reporters were arrested after illegally crossing into North Korea for a broadcast piece. In May 2009 an American man swam across a lake to the house of Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, providing the country’s rulers with an excuse to disqualify her from the upcoming national elections. The U.S. should take the lead in maintaining in the international arena that governments are not responsible for the actions of private citizens and that geopolitical interests should be governed by less petty things than the recklessness of some individuals.

Anita J Joseph ’12, a Crimson associate editorial editor, is a social studies concentrator in Leverett House.