(Un)common Sense

Feast of the Ascension

National Public Radio last weekend told a refreshing story of remarkable common sense in the midst of the national disgrace that pretends to be an immigration policy. Candelaria Texas and San Antonio del Bravo, Mexico are two tiny villages – perhaps 150 residents total – straddling the Rio Grande River in far West Texas. The best way to describe Candelaria’s location is that it is 8 miles past “Resume Speed.” San Antonio del Bravo has a free medical clinic, open to both Mexican and American citizens, while Candelaria has no medical care. On the other hand, San Antonio del Bravo does not have a school. Neither does Candelaria, but it is on the road to the county seat of Presidio Texas, which does. So, the two communities exist as essentially one, with residents going back and forth as their needs require.

There is only one problem. There is not an official border crossing between Candelaria / San Antonio del Bravo. There is a rope bridge, which one suspects is not even necessary during the dry months. People walk back and forth every day, or on Friday afternoon and Monday morning, to go to school, buy groceries, and get medical care. But while there is no requirement in U.S. law that a citizen leave the United States only at an official crossing, no one, even a citizen, can reenter except at a legal point of entry. But the difference can be life-saving, as it involves a 10-minute walk rather than a three-hour drive to the nearest hospital in Alpine Texas.

Of course, the Border Patrol knows all about this. Which is where the story gets refreshing. Here is what agent in charge Mike Shelton says about it:

“The Border Patrol doesn’t want to admit that things like this are going on, but the reality of the situation is it does,” Shelton explained. He said agents are trained to use their judgement on a case-by-case basis. “We want these agents to reason for themselves: ‘Is what I’m about to do going to further the interests of the government and society?’ “

“Just because we can take enforcement action doesn’t necessarily mean we should,” Shelton continued. “We don’t want agents to put people’s lives at risk simply because [the agents] are blindly following the letter of the law. It’s about being human.”

Is what I’m about to do going to further the interests of the government in society? Should agents put people’s lives at risk by blindly following the letter of the law? Agent Shelton, come on down. You have just expressed a better sense of legal equity than anyone on the front page of any national newspaper in the past month. From Aristotle to Aquinas to Kant, we have been told that law was based in and carried out through reason. Aristotle called it phronesis, which translates more or less as practical wisdom. In Texas we call it horse sense. You’ve given us one small example of how that works. On days when we feel as if the world is going crazy, it’s nice to read one small story about sanity.

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About Daniel

I have practiced law in Texas for 35 years. I am also an amateur theologian, with a Master of Letters in theology from the University of St. Andrews. My dissertation and my continued research continues the conflicts between strict enforcement of law and Christian demands of mercy and equity as they impact the daily practice of law.