With arguments over Arizona’s controversial immigration law wrapping up in the Supreme Court last week, the debate over immigration (both legal and illegal) into the United States seems to get more heated every day, and more states considering immigration laws similar to Arizona’s, a recentlawsuit (also reported here) may have flown below your radar.
The ACLU is suing the U.S. border patrol agency Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) over traffic stops that they allege are racially biased and overly-aggressive.
While the basis for many states passing their own immigration laws is the claim that the federal government is not doing enough to stem illegal immigration, the numbers show that during the Obama administration, deportations of illegal immigrants have reached an all-time high, and staffing of border patrol agencies has increased. Furthermore, immigration authorities have placed a heavy priority on deporting illegal immigrants who have committed violent crimes while in the U.S. Anyone who prefers a “get tough” strategy for dealing with illegal immigration should be thrilled at this information, but, for some reason, it largely goes unreported in the media.
While anti-immigrant forces may not have noticed that the Obama administration is being more aggressive against illegal immigration than any other president in decades, people who advocate for the rights of immigrants, particularly the basic civil liberties of undocumented immigrants, certainly have noticed this trend, and, as one might imagine, are not happy about it.
The issue in this lawsuit mostly has to do with racial profiling – the practice of law enforcement agencies targeting members of a particular racial or ethnic group based on the belief that they’re more likely to have committed a crime.
This practice is unlawful in almost any context. The lawsuit asks the court to issue an injunction against the border patrol barring them from engaging in any traffic stops until they have undergone special training on how to avoid racial profiling.
The law governing civil liberties and immigration is a little different from the privacy and civil rights laws that apply in almost any other context, and it can be confusing, both for ordinary individuals, and for the officers charged with enforcing it. When at or near a border crossing, border patrol agents have significant latitude in stopping and searching vehicles when they have any suspicion that violations of immigration laws are occurring.
However, when far away from the border, their power is more or less the same as any other police officer. If they want to stop a vehicle, they have to have a reasonable suspicion that unlawful activity is afoot.
This case was filed in Washington State, and it’s not clear from the articles I’ve found where the traffic stops took place. It’s possible that they occurred near the border with Canada, which is a major entry point for illegal immigrants, which receives much less attention than the U.S.-Mexico border.
In its lawsuit, the ACLU is alleging that such racially-motivated traffic stops are becoming increasingly common, as the U.S. tries to improve security along the northern border, which is much longer than the U.S./Mexico border, and, compared to that border, has been ignored by immigration authorities in the past.
While I am fine with enforcing our current immigration laws (including the deportation of illegal immigrants, with a particular focus on those who have committed crimes in the U.S.), I believe that the constitution, including the protections in the Bill of Rights, should apply to everybody who is in the United States, or otherwise under its jurisdiction.
And I think that basic notions of due process and equal protection should apply when enforcing immigration laws. Call me crazy, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable for the legal protections we would readily extend to a serial killer to also apply to a person who is physically present in this country without the correct paperwork, because they want to make a better life for themselves and their family. But I guess that’s a radical position in this day and age.
Reading the comments on some of the articles covering this story is kind of upsetting. There are a lot of people saying things to the effect of “hey, ACLU, just let the officers do their jobs!” or “who cares about the ‘rights’ of a bunch of illegals?” etc., etc.
Putting aside the fact that the people filing this lawsuit are American citizens, I think the best test of our commitment to the rule of law and the Bill of Rights is how consistently we apply it to everybody, especially the least popular and most vulnerable groups of people.
And action through the judicial branch of government (i.e., lawsuits) is often the only way to ensure that the other two branches of government live up to the promise of the constitution and Bill of Rights.