The Fourth of July approaches and my thoughts turn to liberty. I want you to imagine something. It is a crime to drive recklessly. One can reasonably argue that anyone driving more than fifteen miles per hour over the speed limit is a criminal. We could have cameras in the highways or GPS devices in peoples’ cars transmit such violations to the government. Then periodically, we could send notices of criminal violations to people’s homes. And if people didn’t show up in court, we could send armed agents to their homes to conduct raids, holding everyone at gun point while agents arrest the offender. We could say, “we have no choice. We must live under the law and not ignore it.”
This formerly ridiculous hypothetical is exactly how it feels to the communities of otherwise law-abiding families who have been living peacefully in our country, washing restaurant dishes and picking crops and doing construction, and raising their children in schools where they learn English.
Illegal aliens who commit felonies here are appropriate targets for enforcement. There is virtually no dispute about that. But a policy to arrest families who have come seeking a better life by violent enforcement, and the brutal separation of young children from parents is frankly an abuse of law enforcement discretion. The goal of such tactics is not to “encourage respect for the law.” It is to use law enforcement as a terror tactic to deter illegal immigration.
During the civil rights era, Blacks broke the law by “sitting in” whites-only lunch counters and sitting in the front of the bus. To enforce the rule of law, southern police agencies used violence as a terror tactic to deter the crime of integration. History has not been kind. Nor will history be kind to those who enforce these immigration laws against peaceful people.
We do need to enforce the law as a general matter. And it is reasonable to deter illegal immigration, but not by using terror tactics. We could start by charging business owners and managers substantial fines who do not perform I-9 inquiries. Make hiring illegals an expensive proposition.
The notion that most immigrants are criminals comes from misunderstanding who is here. An enormous number of “illegals” are people whose legal status changes because they overstay their lawful visa or their terror of armed gangs in their home country is insufficient to persuade a Homeland Security bureaucrat that they have a “well founded fear of persecution” and are entitled to asylum. The notion that these people are a threat to the well-being of those of us who were born here is a nightmarish fantasy invented to win an election. It is utter baloney to indulge the prejudice of people annoyed by hearing Spanish.
More to my main point, as we approach July 4, it is dangerous to all of us. After all, why should the Government stop these violent terror tactics with “illegals?” Why not broaden the tactic of armed raids against citizens with outstanding misdemeanor warrants. Nothing in the law protects us from that sort of tactic. Only the traditions of discretion by police and prosecutors prevents the family of the person who failed to show up for court for driving with an expired license from having their door smashed in and men with machine guns holding everyone at gun point.
But those traditions of limiting police power are gradually disappearing, ironically at the same time as violent crime is way down in our society. At some point, around the time “Cops” started airing on television, and we had a “war on drugs”, we became accustomed to treating the families of drug dealers to armed raids, especially Blacks and Latinos in the inner cities. This tactic never stopped. It only broadened to other crimes. The use of overwhelming force became a standard police tactic when making felony arrests, supposedly In order to safeguard the safety of the officers. It also had something to do with the generous provision of used military equipment to police departments.
We need a conversation about the relationship between us and our government, and especially how we balance our desire to enforce the law with living without fear of our government.
We are a society that cherishes liberty, and when we stop caring for the liberty of our neighbors, we will have no one left to care when we start losing our own.
Happy Fourth of July.
Read the Buzzfeed.News article, “ICE will launch nationwide raids on immigrant families starting this weekend”.