Monday, April 29, 2002

May I see your papers please?.

— In a rare disagreement,
White House and Justice
Department officials are
divided over whether to declare
that local and state police
departments have the power to
track down illegal immigrants as a new tactic in the global war on

If adopted as policy, an opinion by the Office of Legal Counsel at the
Justice Department would reverse a longstanding legal tradition and
allow local police officers to make arrests for civil violations of
immigration law, such as overstaying visas.

Independent of what one's feelings are for immigration and immigrants - legal or illegal - this is a very disturbing development. When I lived in a certain European country, as a non-citizen I was required to carry a passport or equivalently suitable identification with me at all times. Of course, so were the citizens of that country. If Ashcroft's latest great idea is implemented, police will have the right to ask for such identification. Who carries their passports with them? Hell, what percentage of Americans even have a passport? One might argue that we are already required to carry identification such as a driver's license, which is effectively if not literally true, but a driver's license says nothing about whether or not you are a legal resident or citizen. People can get them and then have a residency permit expire.

Since few or no Americans carry their passports, if individuals are required to provide positive proof of their legal status every time a policeman feels like giving someone a hard time, a lot of people are going to find themselves in annoying situations.

There is a simple solution - just bug the brown people with funny accents. Lots of them are citizens too. So much for equal treatment.

Americans abroad expect to be treated the same as, if not better than, than the locals are. In another European country I spent some time in the foreigners were easy to spot - they put a big red stripe on their license plates.

In addition to frightening the civil libertarians, these measures and their potential consequences should worry the States' Rights people. Blurring the roles of federal and state law enforcement, federalizing driver's license and identificaton requirements, and the like, will all erode the independence of states in these matters.