Cato hosted a forum the other day about immigration policy and the controversial Arizona law that will be going into effect on July 29. Dan Griswold made the case for comprehensive immigration reform while I offered a critique of the Arizona law. Mark Krikorian from the Center for Immigration Studies was invited to offer a contrary perspective, which is the type of event we like to host — where a civil exchange of views can take place.
Mr. Krikorian is continuing the debate now on his blog. Since his blog post takes a shot at my remarks, I’ll offer a rejoinder here.
By way of background, there are at least four problems with Arizona’s move to involve local police in immigration law enforcement. First, crime victims will be more reluctant to call on the police about violent crimes because they will fear deportation. Second, police resources are scarce. Priorities must be set. Why divert personnel who are trying to respond to (or investigating) violent crimes so that they can arrest, book, and process men and women who pose no danger to the community? The police chief in Phoenix, Jack Harris, among many others, says the Arizona law will make things worse, not better. Third, the Arizona law criminalizes honest work. It is now a crime for an “unauthorized alien” to pick fruit in a field, wash cars, or clean homes or offices. The worry used to be that people were crossing the border to take advantage of welfare benefits. Now policymakers are making work a crime! My fourth point was that involving local police in immigration enforcement will lead to scores of false arrests and that Hispanic Americans and Hispanic legal residents will be the ones enduring these false arrests.
The first thing to note about Mr. Krikorian’s post is that he did not respond to any of those points. What he does say is that I showed a video clip of an obnoxious and boorish guy who refused to answer questions from the police. He says that I believe the guy is a “hero” and that libertarians are “utopian” and favor “anarchism.” Hmmm. These are fanciful statements and I will leave it to fair-minded readers to judge the merits of those claims for themselves. (To follow this exchange further, one should check out the film clip here, though I only showed about a 4 minute excerpt at the Cato forum due to our time constraints.)
In order to examine the scope of government power regarding detentions and questioning, one must necessarily find that line between a lawful detention and an illegal false arrest. These encounters are very rarely captured on film so I thought the film clip might prove useful. In a contest of manners, Mr. Krikorian may be right, that the activist in the car gets indignant very quickly as the police refuse to answer his question, “Am I being detained or am I free to leave?” Let’s concede that right here. On the law, however, the police are wrong. And that was my point.
Let me explain. This incident did not occur at a border crossing where passports must be shown. This was not a traffic stop where license and registration must be presented by the driver. This was some “checkpoint” where the police were trying to question all comers without a warrant, probable cause, or reasonable suspicion. The police did their best to use a “show of authority” to pressure drivers to answer questions that they were under no legal obligation to answer. It was a false arrest. Was it a really awful false arrest? No – it was a false arrest that lasted about ten minutes.
One problem in this area is that 99 out of 100 people will cave in under the illegal pressure by the cops (“you are not free to go until you answer our questions”). Now I know that many are quite happy to answer the questions – that is their choice. Others may get upset when they discover that their right to decline to answer questions was violated – but how many will go to the trouble of hiring a lawyer to bring a lawsuit to check this kind of government overreaching? Virtually none, which means the law offers little practical protection for persons against false arrests, which means there might be quite a lot of them.
Mr. Krikorian may believe that illegal immigration is so serious a problem that it requires more soldiers, more highway checkpoints, stiffer employer sanctions, the criminalization of work, and more ID checks for pedestrians inland, but it is just silly to say that those who disagree with him are “utopian.”