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.

Immigration Bill Down In Flames

June 28, 2007 at 9:03 pm | Posted in Immigration | Leave a comment

The revised Compromise Comprehensive Immigration bill is dead.  The Senate defeated a Cloture motion which would have ended debate and brought the bill up for a vote.  The total was 46 (34 Democrats and 12 Republicans) voting for cloture, and 53 (16 Democrats and 37 Republicans) voting against cloture.  One Democrat did not vote.


In a reversal of their usual voting practices, most Democratic Senators supported the President, while most Republican Senators voted against the initiative in spite of personal campaigning by the President.  Immigration reform was a cornerstone of his domestic agenda.


Senator David Vitter, Republican of Louisiana, said: “The message is crystal-clear. The American people want us to start with enforcement at the border and at the workplace and don’t want promises. They want action, they want results, they want proof, because they’ve heard all the promises before.”


We agree with Senator Vitter, to some extent.  The American People, we believe, want to start with enforcement at the border.  Enforcement at the workplace is a close second, but needs fast, accurate identification and tracking systems to work.


We also agree with Senator Jim DeMint, Republican of South Carolina, who said, “The American people won today. They care enough for their country to get mad and to fight for it. Americans made phone calls and sent letters, and convinced the Senate to stop this bill.”  If you were among those who sent letters and made phone calls, give yourself a hand.  You have helped to show that the people can move the government.


Among those unmoved, however, was Senator Edward Kennedy, of Massachusetts.  Referring to opponents of the bill, Mr. Kennedy said: “We know what they don’t like. What are they for?”  If he had listened to the American people; if he had read this blog, he would know what we want.


Well …having defeated this massive asininity, the Senate and the House ought to roll up their sleeves and get to work one a staged approach to solving this highly complex problem.

The Senate should vote NO to the new Immigration Compromise

June 27, 2007 at 9:22 pm | Posted in Immigration | Leave a comment

I have sent the following message to my U.S. Senators:

The Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill before you now is a bad bill that takes a bad approach to immigration reform.  It is a long and complicated bill that will no doubt be the subject of amendment after amendment.  It will not do what out immigration policy ought to do:  reflect the values and needs of the United States as a whole.

The issues are too complex to be dealt with all at once, without hearings, and without serious study on your part.  You have not had the opportunity to do the research you need to do, or to contemplate the proposals being made in the bill.

The subject should be taken up in stages.  I believe that the first thing we need to do is to strengthen border security.  Legislation has been passed (the compromise bill would weaken it) but the Congress needs to insist that the corrective measures be implemented quickly and effectively.

Once that has been done you need to address the problem of the more than 11 million illegal immigrants now living in the country, and the countless others who have overstayed their visas.

Finally, you need to examine, revise, and simplify the tangled web of guest worker and special visa programs as well as the qualifications for immigration and citizenship.

I urge you to vote the current bill down so that you can take the logical approach to immigration reform.

Please send a similar message to your U.S. Senators.

Recommendation on Immigration Bill Vote

June 26, 2007 at 7:02 pm | Posted in Immigration | Leave a comment

The revised, renegotiated Compromise Immigration bill will be coming up for a Senate vote sometime this week, probably Thursday.  The Curmudgeon recommends that Senators vote against the bill. (For more information, please see my previous post on immigration.)


The Congress needs to revise the immigration law in stages.  First, seal the borders against further illegal immigration.  Then handle the illegal immigrants who are already here.  Finally revise the guest worker and visa programs.


Please call or write your Senators and urge them to vote against the bill.

Immigration: Some Problems, Some Solutions

June 26, 2007 at 8:53 am | Posted in Immigration | 3 Comments

The immigration issue is a complex one, as are most of the issues that face us today.  U.S. immigration policy is complicated, misdirected, and ineffective.  It has resulted in porous borders that allow a stream of illegal immigrants into our country.  It has had a negative impact on our security, our economy, and our society.

In a world where terrorism is probably the greatest threat we face, our porous borders make it easy for terrorists to enter our country, move about as they wish, and perpetrate terrorist acts.  Aside from terrorism, many illegal immigrants commit crimes of all kinds here. Although most are simply looking for a better life, some cross the border on a regular basis to carry illegal drugs to sell here, or to smuggle other illegal immigrants into this country.  These smuggled immigrants face a very dangerous crossing and are frequently injured or even killed by the experience.  Other illegal immigrants commit criminal acts here and some are criminals fleeing from prosecution.

 Whatever their reason for crossing the border, we should remember that all illegal immigrants have broken the law:  they are criminals by definition. Our porous borders have already allowed more than 11 million people to enter our country illegally.  These people pay no income or payroll taxes, but put a great burden on education, health care, law enforcement, and other social services.  Although most illegal immigrants contribute to the economy by spending some of the money they earn here, they send a lot of that money back to their home countries.  Studies show that the difference between what illegal immigrants contribute to our economy and what they cost it is more than $20,000 per individual.  Multiply that by 11 million:  that’s what illegal immigration costs the taxpayers. 

In addition, illegal immigrants lower wages for American workers.  The argument that they take only jobs that Americans won’t take is nonsense:  In many cases Americans would take the jobs if they were paid a decent wage.    There are, it must be admitted, cases where employers are unable to fill jobs with legal residents, but we already have “guest worker” programs for use in such cases.

The argument that low wages paid to illegal immigrants keep the cost of products down is sophistry.  If employers paid a living wage to employees, the cost of the products might go up (or the employers’ profits might go down), but the employers and their employees would be paying for the social services they use, and the employees would not be living in the squalor that most illegal immigrants suffer.  As it is, the American taxpayer pays… and pays… and pays.

 So we need to close the border as quickly as possible.  Congress has already passed legislation that would erect a fence along some 800 miles of the border with Mexico, add border agents, and deploy technology like pilot-less aircraft, video cameras, and radars.  But Congress needs to exercise oversight to ensure that these things are happening as quickly as possible, with a minimum of waste, and without fraud and deception.  The current Administration has taken fraud, deception, and incompetence to new lows, and Congress needs to make sure this job is done right! 

However, even if we closed the border today there are more than 11 million illegal immigrants who are already here, and we have to do something about them.  I don’t want to see us take draconian measures, but illegal immigrants have committed a crime, and should not be allowed to get off without paying a penalty.  We need to deport most of the illegal immigrants, and allow them to apply for immigration lawfully, but with a disadvantage because of their illegal entry.  We need to jail those who have committed crimes here, and when they have served their sentences we need to deport them with no chance of future immigration.  We need to develop a realistic “path to citizenship” for the relatively few illegal immigrants who would face extraordinary hardships if they were deported.

Of course it will be difficult to find most of these illegal immigrants, especially after they discover that they’re not going to get an amnesty.  But there are ways of making them easier to find.  We should:

  • Develop a system for checking immigration status so that employers can easily and accurately check the status of prospective employees.
  • Vigorously enforce the existing laws against hiring illegal immigrants. 
  • Develop a tamper-proof  ID card and tracking system that would allow us to keep track of legal resident aliens, and enable us to ensure that they don’t stay longer than their visas permit.
  • Permit state and local law enforcement personnel to check immigration status when they make an arrest or have probable cause to believe that an individual is an illegal immigrant.
  • Require the Federal government to take illegal immigrants into custody and process them as I discussed above.

These things would make it much more difficult for illegal immigrants to find jobs, and therefore make it less desirable for them to come here illegally.  It would also motivate many illegal immigrants who are already here to leave the country.  They should be allowed to do so (within a specified time frame) without penalty.

 In addition to the 11 million illegal immigrants living here, there are millions of people here on visas that allow them to work.  We need to revise the incredibly complex, tangled web of temporary visa and guest worker programs that are bringing in skilled as well as unskilled and semi-skilled people.  Many of these people are overstaying their visas, and many of them are taking jobs that Americans could fill.  We should work on the principle that foreign workers should be imported only to the extent that an employer can prove there are no Americans available to fill the job.  And we need to revise the immigration laws to favor the kind of people we need as citizens over those who simply want to come here or those who have relatives here. Immigration is a complicated issue.  I’ve made some proposals here, and if you have questions I’ll be glad to answer them if I can.  I hope you’ll write your representatives in Congress, as I have, to give them your advice.  As I have said, it’s easy if you go to, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people communicate with members of Congress.  (No, I have nothing to do with that organization.  I do use their services.)  

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