PROFILING: What’s all the fuss?

May 5, 2010 at 3:22 pm | Posted in Immigration, Politics | 5 Comments

The fact is, we all do it. Go into a room with a bunch of people you don’t know, and who do you sidle up to and start a conversation with? Not the beetle-browed lout glaring around the room from a corner. Not the woman whose skirt has seen better days and who looks as though she’s sucking a lemon. There’s a profile in your head—you don’t even realize it. And you start a conversation with somebody who looks congenial, interesting, friendly.

Now let’s change things just a little. You’re a police officer, and your duty is to serve and protect the public against criminals, and to preserve law and order by preventing crime. Look around the room: there are two people talking animatedly in Spanish. The beetle-browed lout is black and tough-looking. One of the women has coffee-colored skin and flashing black eyes; she’s talking quietly in some kind of accent to a guy with a big nose and a better tan than John Boehner–and his doesn’t come out of a bottle.

Every one of those people fits the popular profile of a criminal, a terrorist, or an illegal alien. But if you’re a police officer you’d better not arrest any of them without probable cause.

The term comes from the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution: The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

It means that a police officer must have a reasonable belief that a person has committed a crime before taking action.

The way you look is not probable cause. The way you speak is not probable cause. Officer, you’d better have a lot more than that! If there’s an APB out for a 6-foot 4-inch black guy with really thick eyebrows…maybe you keep an eye on him, but don’t make any moves without more evidence, because he’s actually a defensive tackle in the NFL looking for a quiet evening away from his immature teammates.

How about that Spanish speaking, foreign looking couple? Before you get out the cuffs and point them toward the border you should know that they are Italian Americans, born here, and just back from a two-year assignment in Spain teaching English as a second language. They think speaking Spanish is fun.

Well there’s still the dark and flashy woman quietly making nice (in an accent) with a guy who looks middle-eastern. He’s actually a buyer for an Israeli technology company and she’s a representative of a Silicon Valley startup.

And that nice, congenial guy passing you the plate of crackers spread with cream cheese or Brie? He just flew in from Pakistan, where he spent several weeks learning how to make bombs—and talk nicely to Americans.

The point is this: The way you look; the way you sound; the things you do may be components of probable cause, but by themselves they are virtually meaningless. Very few bulgy black guys commit crimes: most of them just want to look tougher than their buddies to impress their girlfriends. The vast majority of people who enjoy speaking Spanish, or who speak it at work, are naturalized citizens or were born here of citizens. And many people who look Middle Eastern are Jewish Americans, Israelis, Italians, Spanish, or Hindus from India. Look at Moslems. Even if you could positively identify them with no errors as being Moslem, you need to be aware that the percentage of Moslems who are terrorists is vanishingly small.

Profiling may help, but the detail in the profile had better be very good. If not, officer, you’re going to be bothering, annoying, and harassing thousands and thousands of innocent people; delaying them from going about their affairs, embarrassing them (and yourself), and angering them. Stand by for the lawsuits.

You see, in this country the Government doesn’t have its fingers in every move you make. It’s not allowed to watch you or listen to you, except in very limited circumstances. Our Constitution and laws protect you from unusual search, seizure, and arrest…even if you look funny.

Better tell our lawmakers, not to mention the Supreme Court, that we want to keep it that way. We are the United States of America. Our Constitution and legal system have served us well for well over 200 years. We ought to have the confidence to know that they will continue to serve us well.


The Curmudgeon Disagrees with Olbermann

May 1, 2010 at 4:12 pm | Posted in Immigration, Politics | 2 Comments

April 30, 2010: In his Worst Persons segment, Keith Olbermann featured Ted Poe, a Republican, Tea Party type Congressman from Texas. Whether, on any given day, Poe is the Worst Person in the World is open for discussion. But Olbermann got it wrong this time, because for once in his life, Poe was actually right!

Now, I didn’t hear his whole speech, but in the clip Olbermann showed, Poe was advocating that we seal the border with Mexico by using more technology and more people, saying that “Government doesn’t have the moral will” to do it. He’s probably right–especially if you substitute the word “political” for “moral.” I firmly believe that we could effectively seal our Southern Border if we would devote the resources it takes.

I’m not talking about building brick and mortar walls, although they are a part of the solution. I’m talking about drone aircraft (some are already in use) backed up by rapid response units, advanced equipment that can sniff out drugs or people, and enough Border Patrol agents to get the job done. We could even, if necessary, bring in the military. Give them some special training and they could certainly help the Border Patrol.

Controlling the border is only part of the problem: there are millions of people who want to come here and who have applied legally, and there are millions more who are already here illegally. Controlling immigration and making sure that everybody who is here is here legally is a bigger and horrendously more complex problem.

The laws on who can get in to the U.S as permanent or temporary residents are so complex that I doubt if anybody understands them–and so changeable that eligibility changes radically on an annual basis. The laws need to be simplified and made rational, so that the people we admit are positive influences on our culture and economy, and not simply useful to businesses or individuals. And if we are a compassionate country as well as a country of laws, our immigration laws need to provide for unfortunates as well.

The content of those laws is far too broad a subject to be covered here. But I believe that current laws do not permit enough temporary unskilled and semi-skilled laborers. We need them to do the jobs many citizens won’t do; but we need to treat them fairly, pay them properly, and send them back when their work is done. Similarly, we should encourage foreign students to become temporary residents while they pursue undergraduate and graduate degrees. And unless they have applied for permanent residence we should promptly send them back upon graduation. Other classes of temporary immigrants include those who bring critical skills needed by businesses. The requirements need to be enforced far more strictly, and like the others, people with critical skills need to be sent home when the job is done.

Then there is the problem of the millions of illegal immigrants who are already here. Proposed solutions range from amnesty to shipping them home. Well, we’ve already tried amnesty: it didn’t work, as witness the number of illegal immigrants here today. The problem is, simply shipping them home won’t work either. It’s draconian, in many cases morally intolerable, and impractical. Obviously, criminals must be punished–and then deported. But most of the illegal immigrants are not criminals, except that they committed a misdemeanor by coming here illegally. Most are working–at very low wages–and paying at least some taxes. Many have families who, in many cases did not choose to come here but who came here as children or spouses. Some have children who were born here and who are, therefore, U.S. citizens.

I believe that there ought to be “a path to citizenship” for most illegal immigrants. Not all, by any means, but most. That path must blend with the path taken by those who have already applied, and must depend on the good behavior of the individuals. It must not be easy (although it might in a few cases include amnesty) but it must be possible.

We need a serious, courteous debate on border control and immigration law. We need to get rid of the bigotry and partisanship and, for once, consider what is right for the country–and our consciences.

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