A few weeks ago I took my family from Tucson down to Tombstone. That’s a drive of a little over an hour (and well worth it, if you’re into kitschy Old West stuff, or just interested in the history of the American West). On the way back we ran into a permanent ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) checkpoint. This was one fairly insignificant data point in how immigration is being managed (or, better, mismanaged) in America at this point, and the experience indicated problems at two levels.
First, I was initially appalled to see drivers of the cars queued up ahead of my handing papers through their windows to the ICE officer to check. I thought: “No way am I submitting papers to travel on a state highway in this country.” (The road crosses no state boundaries, let alone the border to Mexico. It runs roughly away from that border, which is about 40 miles south of Tombstone.) When we pulled up, however, the ICE officer didn’t ask for papers. He made some attempt at humor. I was not amused: I don’t think people with guns checking American citizens as they travel peacefully are amusing at all.
As we drove on (in my typical lead-foot style), it became apparent what had gone on. The cars queued up ahead of me were driven by people who looked as though they could have been illegal immigrants. We are lucky enough not to have that thought of us, so we were spared the indignity of having to prove that we were within the law; these people were not. And now, with the charged atmosphere on immigration here in Arizona, that probably is an experience they have fairly frequently.
That is a significant problem. Here are people who (if the ICE officer was doing his job properly) were conducting themselves perfectly lawfully and peacefully within the state of Arizona. But they have to prove their legality whenever (apparently) ICE decides they must. That is appalling. Of course the appalling nature of this situation will surprise nobody who has to put up with it routinely. But it was the first time I encountered it in this bald form.
That seems to me a serious problem for a nation that styles itself as “conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” But, it seems to me, it is the lesser problem on display here. For the fact is that ICE exercises jurisdiction over the right to travel over not just those who might be illegal immigrants, but anybody traveling that road. Though they did not stop me, nor ask for papers, it is clear that they take themselves to have the prerogative to do so. In other words, not just those who might have immigrated illegally, but every person who wishes to travel that road, does so only with the permission of ICE. The liberty to move about peacefully and lawfully is gone for all of us, not just immigrants, legal or otherwise.
How did that happen? At one level, it’s obvious enough: people fed up with the problems they attribute to illegal immigrants provided the political muscle to implement policies like these. More worrying is that the cost to the liberty of everybody was never appreciated going in, and no doubt is rarely appreciated now. It is another of those tradeoffs of liberty for (perceived) security that Franklin warned us about. The more accustomed to such tradeoffs we get, the better his judgment fits what we have become.
Read Full Post »