July 28th, 2018
Forty years ago, when I was a cadet at the United States Military Academy (West Point), I was required to study law for a semester. In particular, my classmates and I were forced to review the contents of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). The joke at the time was that “military justice” was to “justice” what “military music” was to other forms of music. Military justice has some passing resemblance to the commonly accepted concept of justice, but no more than that.
I did fairly well in that class, but I never had enough of OCD to be a total stickler for details. I have never had the patience to split hairs. However, that is what the law is about. There were (and are) no definitive answers, because somebody could always say, “but on the other hand…”. I found the course to be interesting, and also remarkably frustrating. I was relieved when that semester was finished.
Fast forward to July 2018.
I am in the middle of another law class. This time I am studying immigration law. I thank God that it does not last for a semester. However, even a week of learning about immigration law is enough to push me to the edge. Our study guide looks like an old version of a Manhattan phone book, and I am struggling through nightly homework assignments of over one hundred pages. American immigration law is a Byzantine collection of rules, loaded with endless numbers of exceptions, waivers, and apparent contradictions. I do not consider myself to be stupid, but I find that I cannot keep track of all the statutes and regulations. I prefer to do things that make sense, and immigration law simply does not qualify.
I am very grateful to the instructors of this class. They are making every effort to make an irrational system understandable. Despite their care and diligence, I still find that immigration law is a hideous mess. Somehow, it reminds me of the times that I have sat in the synagogue and listened to the rabbi try to interpret the halacha, the laws of the the Torah and Talmud. Even after the rabbi gave his interpretation, based on the Talmud and on the writings of the sages, I would still shake my head and (softly) say something like, “Really? You got to be kidding me.”
There is a difference between what happens in the synagogue and what happens with immigration law. A ruling on the halacha might affect how somebody cooks a meal or celebrates a wedding. An immigration ruling might decide if a person ever sees his or her children again. All laws have an effect. Some more than others.
I don’t like immigration law. I will never like it. I study it because, regardless of how screwed up it is, it profoundly affects the lives of many people, and I care about these people (at least some of them). It is a crazy, absurd set of rules that can create a new life for somebody or utterly destroy the one they already have.
It does not matter if I like it or not. It is. It is all I have to work with.
And I will work with it.