“The doctrine of laches (pronounced latchiz) is based on the maxim that 'equity aids the vigilant and not those who slumber on their rights.' (Black's Law Dictionary). The outcome is that a legal right or claim will not be enforced or allowed if a long delay in asserting the right or claim has prejudiced the adverse party.”

Interesting legal concept usually used in civil law. But the idea might apply to our government’s handling of illegal immigration. If one sleeps on a right (or a law) or is lazy or ineffective in its application (as in failing to press the law), one conceivably loses the right to later employ it. Might that not apply to most if not all undocumented workers now residing here who by virtue of our country’s lack of intelligent and conscientious application of immigration law may now have been granted by default the right to stay? Doesn’t immigration law have a “the statute has run” provision, implied or otherwise, like every other law, with a few exceptions, that establishes immunity from prosecution if the “criminal” hasn’t been apprehended and prosecuted for it within a statutorily defined length of time?

By virtue of his disappearing in plain sight within his recognized model citizenship coupled with our carelessness and laxity in the application of the law, have we not set the stage for a mass forgiveness (yes, amnesty) of undocumented workers from whose law-abiding community membership and employment we’ve all benefitted? Lincoln had the wisdom to universally pardon all Confederate soldiers to heal our nation’s wounds after our Civil War. Shouldn’t we display similar wisdom toward far lessor offenders than those who took up arms?

And as to the idea that these undocumented immigrants have brought massive amounts of crime with them: Such immigrants and their children commit crime at lower rates compared to our own brethren. Bringing attention to themselves is the last thing they want to do. Toeing the line is their way of remaining invisible while they labor away anonymously, unrecognized, and unthanked.

Fact: According to Cato Institute research, the incarceration rate was 1.53 percent for citizens, 0.85 percent for undocumented immigrants. Undocumented immigrants are 44 percent less likely to be incarcerated than our own citizens.

There is no question but that our government dropped the ball in any number of clumsy ways on the enforcement of immigration law. Moreover, our government approached the issue with such a gordian tangle of theories, legal and otherwise, that sorting out the “what to do’s” kept tripping them up. And now after 70 or so years of our own keystone cops burlesque we punish immigrants by girding our loins to round them all up?

What about our own national failure to apply the law with anything remotely resembling competence? Shouldn’t that be part of the larger picture as we analyze what to do? How can we stir ourselves to virtuous action when we’ve slept on our watch like Rip Van Winkle for the last 70 or more years?

Wouldn’t the fairest action be to acknowledge our ineptness at handling undocumented workers along with recognizing our own material culpability in the problem, and declare a timely, well-deserved, equitable, and justifiable truce? Why not “begin the world anew” on immigration? Our nation has benefitted immeasurably on many fronts and on many levels by the labor of the invisible ones, and it’s time to take measured pause, acknowledge our own guilt, extend a welcoming hand, and embrace our brothers and sisters. Fresh clean start.

After all, all comers to the bar of justice, as I always told my own children when they scampered to me for inter-sibling justice — one against the other, they must come with clean hands. On the question of immigration, no hands are squeaky clean, except for dreamers who were brought here innocently and do not deserve what could be in store for them.

From our national birth we must never forget we ourselves began as a country of undocumented immigrants. Can we now rise up in self-righteous conceit and claim and act otherwise?

Dr. Brik McDill of Bakersfield is a retired psychologist.