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Monday, February 06, 2012

More liberty for the aliens

by digby

Howie has a great post up about the Alabama immigration law and "self-deportation." (I'm not sure why it isn't simply called ethnic cleansing, since that's what it is.) He talks about the obvious historical echoes in this sort of thing and highlights a long piece about this from This American Life. Here's an excerpt:

Jack Hitt:The law is so comprehensive that some officials seem to be overreaching, just to be on the safe side. An attorney told me about one guy being denied a jailhouse phone call, since use of the phone was considered a business transaction, and about a victim of domestic violence who was told by a judge that if she wanted a protective order, she might open herself up for deportation.

But what I found most surprising was that amid the chaos, regular Alabamians, here and there, were taking the law to heart, pursuing ad hoc immigration justice on their own. I met a young Costa Rican woman named Carolina who long ago overstayed her visa. She told me about a recent time at a grocery store checkout. She and her husband tried to pay for their food with a credit card and valid ID. The cashier refused them, saying they'd first have to show that they were here legally.

Carolina: I swear, they don't want to sell us the groceries.

Jack Hitt: Carolina had just had a birthday when we met. And her mother back home had wired her some money to buy a gift, a money gram she could pick up at Walmart, not a government office, but a private business. So no problem. She'd done this many, many times in the nearly seven years she's lived in Alabama. Before the law, all she had to do was show ID and type in the secret PIN number her mother had sent her. But this time...

Carolina: They did not give me the money. They just refused to give me the money, because I cannot prove to the girl that I was legal. And I don't know why I have to prove her that.

Jack Hitt: Again, this is not part of the law.

The program also interviewed the GOP mastermind behind all these draconian anti-immigration laws around the country, Kris Kobach, Mitt Romney's new bff. I thought this was particularly interesting in light of the above:

Jack Hitt: Kobach has been working on illegal immigration since 2001. His big insight came right after 9/11, when he was working for the Justice Department.

Kris Kobach: It was an a-ha moment when I realized that five of the 19 hijackers were in the country illegally. Four of those five had traffic violations while they were illegally in the country. And if the police officer had had that information at his fingertips, he could have made an arrest.

Jack Hitt: But cops don't check for immigration status. Immigration agents do. The problem was, there were only a few thousand of them. Kobach realized what we need is what war planners call a force multiplier. What if we enlisted the more than 700,000 state and local law enforcement officers across the country into the fight against illegal immigration?

The simplicity of Kobach's argument is what's so appealing. He isn't creating new policy at all. He's simply empowering states to enforce what is already in the federal statutes.

Kris Kobach: And from the alien's perspective, it's better, too. He can depart the United States on his own, freely, without ever being in custody. And so there's more liberty for him. And there's less cost for the United States.

Jack Hitt: There's less cost, because if someone self-deports, there's no arrest. There's no detention or immigration hearing. Attrition through enforcement sounds so rational, so clean, when Kobach explains it, like it'll happen automatically. You don't have to do much. They'll just go.

But of course, the reality of self-deportation is much messier than that. You're threatening to separate parents and kids, drive them from their homes. It's completely primal, the things that terrify us most. And that is the actual plan, to scare them.

I asked Kobach, point by point, about the unintended consequences of the Alabama bill. He disputed everything. Did it hurt business? Did it create chaos in the schools? All overstated, he said. Finally, I asked him if it unearthed long-sequestered racial attitudes aimed at Latinos.

Kris Kobach: I think it's really an argument of last resort. And that is, well, if you start enforcing immigration laws more aggressively, that's going to become a racially charged issue. And my answer is, no, it's not. I don't buy it. And frankly, that hasn't happened.

Cashiers asking for papers from people who are trying to buy groceries has no racial component. Sure it doesn't.

The most interesting part of the piece is a GOP legislator who was confronted by a good Christian who runs a soup kitchen complaining that he was being asked to turn away people who were hungry and he just couldn't do it. The legislator finally admitted that this probably wasn't something Jesus would countenance. Imagine that.

Of course, Kris Kobach believes that by harassing people, separating families, driving them from their homes, he's giving them more liberty. After all, he could be locking them up and throwing away the key. They must see how lucky they are to have him.