Topic: Law and Civil Liberties

Freedom for Kareem November 9

November 9 will mark 1 year in jail for an innocent young man, sentenced to four years in prison for expressing his opinions on his blog.

Raja Kamal of the University of Chicago and I told the story in “Freedom for an Egyptian Blogger and Freethinker” last February in the Washington Post. You can get more details, including how you can help take part in a dignified protest for human rights, write letters to Egyptian officials, and more, at www.freekareem.org.

Anti-Immigrant Opinions are Weakly Held

I didn’t watch Tuesday’s Democratic debate – watching politicians from either party outbid each other on faux outrage and how much of my money they would spend is too annoying – but I did get the after-action report on the Newshour. And it seems Senator Clinton was drawn into the vortex New York Governor Eliot Spitzer (D) created with his recent flip-flop on driver licensing and public safety.

His original decision to de-link driver licensing and immigration status for public safety reasons was right, but it was pounced on and demagogued by anti-immigrant groups. Spitzer backed down, and pledged his state to implement the REAL ID Act, pleasing nobody. (When the costs of this national ID law to New York are discovered, he’ll flip-flop again, earning quiet, broad-based appreciation.)

Watching the excerpts of the candidates bumbling around this issue, it appeared to me that they knew giving licenses to illegal immigrants is the right and practical thing to do, but also that they would get demagogued if they said so.

Well, here’s my advice: Go ahead and say it.

Having watched this issue, and having heard from lots of angry people, I know that anti-immigrant views are a classic weakly held opinion. Angry as people are about the rule of law and “coming to this country the right way,” that anger melts when they learn more. Stuff like this:

“We haven’t permitted anywhere near enough legal immigration for decades. You can sit back and talk about legal channels, but the law has only allowed a smidgen of workers into the country compared to our huge demand. Getting people through legal channels at the INS has been hell.

“America, you’re going to have to get over what amounts to paperwork violations by otherwise law-abiding, honest, hard-working people. And that’s what we’re talking about - 98% honest, hard-working people who want to follow the same path our forefathers did, and who would be a credit to this country if we made it legal for them to come. Our current immigration policies are a greater threat to the rule of law than any of the people crossing the border to come here and work.”

This kind of argumentation will be met with vicious demagoguery, which will weaken, and weaken, and fade and fade and fade. The people I hear from – and I regularly do because of the educating I’ve been doing nationwide on the REAL ID Act – immediately soften when I pull them from their echo chambers. The “rule of law” hand is a low pair compared to this full house: “honest, hard-worker from impoverished circumstances, denied legal channels other than a narrow chance of navigating an incompetent bureaucracy.”

There’s one Democratic candidate who is well suited to make this kind of argument. It’s a way to draw attention, look principled, do the right thing, and vanquish a loud but weak pressure group. New Mexico’s uninsured driver rate dropped by two-thirds – from 33% to 11% – when that state delinked immigration status and driving in 2003.

White House ‘Orders’ on the Way

Today’s Washington Post reports that the White House is increasingly frustrated with the Congress because the president and congressional leaders just can’t agree on a legislative agenda. To get around this “problem,” White House officials say the president is going to step up the issuance of “administrative orders,” which is probably a euphemism for Clintonian executive orders.

When a Republican Congress put the brakes on Bill Clinton’s ambitions, Clinton’s people came up with the idea of executive orders. It wasn’t a new idea, but they were going to take it to whole new level. Conservatives were rightly fuming when a boastful Paul Begala said, “Stroke of the pen, law of the land. Kinda cool.” If Dick Cheney or Karl Rove repeated those words tomorrow, one wonders how it would be received in political circles. What would Rudy Giuliani say? Would Hillary try to feign outrage?

For Cato scholarship on executive orders, go here.

Former Narcotics Cop Creates a Tell-All Video

Barry Cooper was a narcotics cop in Texas who made countless arrests. But when he started busting the relatives and friends of politicians, he found himself in trouble with the law. Disgusted with this turn of events, Cooper came up with an idea to get even with the authorities. He created a DVD called Never Get Busted Again. The DVD reveals dozens of ways to avoid detection and arrest by narcotics officers. The DVD is causing a stir in law enforcement circles, but Cooper is unbowed. He has plans for another DVD called Never Get Raided Again. Interestingly, Cooper admits that he feels quite guilty about raids that he was personally involved in: “I used to break into houses at three o’clock in the morning with 10 other men, after throwing a flash grenade through the window,” Cooper says. “I would drag Mom and Dad away and send the kids to the department of human services — over a bag of pot — and totally ruin that entire family.” And those are just the raids where no one is injured or killed. Cato has documented plenty of raids that go awry.

In my book, After Prohibition, three former law enforcement officers explain how they started out as drug warriors but eventually came to the view that the drug war was not only not working, but it actually has disastrous side-effects. Colorado Sheriff Bill Masters is another example. Early in his career, Masters received awards from the DEA for his drug busts. Later, Masters turned against the war and wrote a terrific book called Drug War Addiction. There are so many cops breaking ranks these days, that there is now an organization called Law Enforcement Officers Against Prohibition (LEAP).

For Cato scholarship on the drug war, go here. I also recommend this recent essay by Ethan Nadelmann. And for more info on how to handle yourself in a confrontation with the police, go here.

Update: Several individuals who work in the drug reform movement have emailed me to say that they dispute the quality and accuracy of Cooper’s Never Get Busted Again DVD.  I thank them for alerting me and wanted to pass it along.  Buyer beware.  For what it’s worth, I can and do recommend the Busted DVD from Flex Your Rights.

Inspector General at the Door?

How many federal police agencies can you name?

The list is getting longer. CIA, FBI, NSA, ATF, DEA, INS, TSA, Secret Service, Customs, Border Patrol, U.S. Marshals Service, to name a few. But there are many more. IRS agents are armed. So are EPA agents. Agents with the Bureau of Land Management are not only armed, they have a SWAT team. Now agents with the Office of the Inspector General are getting into the police business, as Ryan Scott found out when his dog was shot and killed by an unnamed investigator.

Expect more stories like this. The number of federal criminal laws has been steadily expanding (pdf). To enforce those laws, Congress hires more agents. The agents, in turn, conduct more raids. To process the cases, Congress hires more prosecutors. And then, of course, Congress builds more prisons.

What we need to do is roll all of this back. Way back. For Cato scholarship on the federalization of crime, go here (pdf), here, and here.

Spitzer’s Speedy Flip-Flop

Wow. A brief 36 days is all it took New York Governor Eliot Spitzer (D) to abandon his stance on driver licensing and New Yorkers’ public safety. As I wrote at the time, Spitzer got it right when he announced that he would de-link driver licensing and immigration status because of the safety benefits to the state’s drivers.

But shrill attacks from anti-immigrant groups came fast and furious. A small group of 9/11 victims’ family members, grief curdled into hatred of immigrants, regularly bandy fear and their loved ones’ memories for political purposes. And they did so with relish when Spitzer announced his plan. It’s crassness that one would expect a New York pol to stare down.

But Spitzer, unable to withstand the heat, seems to have gone scrambling for an out. The New York Times reports that Spitzer will team up with DHS officials today to announce New York’s planned compliance with the REAL ID Act. It requires proof of legal presence to get a compliant license.

This a flat out reversal of the position Spitzer took just over a month ago. The justification he gave - correctly - for de-linking licensing and immigration status was New Yorkers’ safety. With driver licensing treated as an immigration enforcement tool, illegals don’t get licensed, don’t learn the rules of the road or basic driving skills, and don’t carry insurance. When they cause accidents, they flee the scene, leaving injured and dead New Yorkers and causing higher auto insurance rates. As I noted a few weeks ago during his brief flirtation with principle and fortitude, “Spitzer is not willing to shed the blood of New Yorkers to ‘take a stand’ on immigration, which is not a problem state governments are supposed to solve anyway.”

He may try, but Spitzer can’t honestly claim that he’s been consistent. New York’s compliance with REAL ID, were it actually to materialize, would put REAL ID compliant cards in the hands of citizens and make New York driver data available to the federal government. Thus, possession of a non-REAL-ID-compliant license would be tantamount to a confession of illegal status. Thanks to Spitzer’s flip-flop, illegal aliens will now recognize that getting a license merely provides federal authorities the address at which to later round them up for deportation.

Needless to say, they’re not going to get licenses, and the safety benefits Spitzer correctly sought for New Yorkers just 36 days ago will not materialize. The result is what’s known in regulatory circles as risk transfer. There will be more injuries on New York’s roadways so that the U.S. can have a national ID system. Alas, the security benefits of that system, as I showed in testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, are negative.

I was impressed and surprised by how right Spitzer had gotten it when he de-linked driver licensing and immigration status in New York. I’m once again impressed, but in a much different way, by how quickly he went scampering away from this good policy. The reactionary critics of his policy obviously really got to him.

Police ‘CYA’ Reports

Police force pregnant woman to the pavement at gunpoint.  When they realize there will be no arrest because the woman is innocent, one officer is overheard saying that he’ll prepare a report to “cover their asses.”  Listening to the audiotape, one gets the impression that this is not the first time the officer has filed a CYA report.  The truth is that police misconduct and deception are much more common than most people realize.  Something to keep in mind when you encounter the ‘ol “well, if haven’t done anything wrong, you don’t have anything to worry about.”  Also something to keep in mind if you are called for jury service.  Be skeptical.  Look for strong evidence.  Be fair.