On AZ immigration, Gerson responds to me; I respond to him 

Mike Gerson of the Washington Post has responded to my criticism of his contention, made in a column about the new Arizona immigration law, that “Americans are not accustomed to the command ‘Your papers, please’” and that the “distinctly American response to such a request would be ‘Go to hell,’ and then ‘See you in court.’”

You can read my criticism here, but the short version is that Americans are in fact quite accustomed to being asked to produce identification — in airports, hospitals, doctors’ offices, public buildings, and, of course, in virtually any interaction with police or other government authorities.  If doing so is a burden, it’s a burden on everyone.

In his response, Gerson doesn’t really deny that, but he says it’s all about context:

By way of analogy, an entrance exam for college entry is expected. An entry exam at a polling place in unconstitutional. In the same way, being asked to prove your identity for security reasons to board a plane or employ credit is not the same as being asked to prove your identity to a police officer because of a vague stereotype. I am more than happy to provide my identification to an officer who clocks me speeding. I would be less cooperative if I were stopped because conservative, overweight, white men were declared by implication to be a criminally suspect class by the state of Virginia.

Put aside the college thing; getting into a particular school is not a constitutionally-protected right, while voting is, so making a person jump through elaborate hoops for college admissions is permissible, while it isn’t for voting.  The more important point is that Gerson’s white-guy analogy makes sense only if you believe the new Arizona law allows police to engage in racial profiling and stop Hispanics simply because they are Hispanic.  When the law specifies cases of “lawful contact” in which an officer would contact federal immigration authorities only if he has a “reasonable suspicion” that a person might be in the United States illegally, Gerson, it appears, simply doesn’t believe it.  “Arizona’s governor, members of its legislature and local police officials have refused to publicly offer their standards for such [reasonable] suspicions,” he writes, “because those standards would almost certainly smack of racial profiling. Their silence is a kind of confession.”

Not really.  Phrases like “lawful contact” and “reasonable suspicion” have meanings developed in many, many years of case law.  Police and prosecutors act in accordance with those meanings.  I would recommend Gerson read the former prosecutor Andy McCarthy on that subject.

Gerson’s big point is that when people like me “fail to comprehend” that being asked for a driver’s license is more burdensome in some circumstances than in others, it “reveals a fundamental lack of empathy.”  But here’s the thing.  If you are doing something illegal, then mundane interactions with the police are always a potential problem.  Just look at the amazing variety of wrongdoing police discover as a result of routine traffic stops.  When cops stop somebody with an expired tag, they aren’t necessarily looking for guns or meth or a guy wanted for skipping out on his debts.  But that’s what they sometimes find.

If you are in the United States illegally, you have reason to fear interactions with the police or any other government authority.  That is just a fact, and you can’t change that short of getting rid of our immigration laws.  Since those laws are on the books, passed by Congress over many years, I don’t see a problem with enforcing them, including requiring police to check with federal authorities on the immigration status of people they have encountered through lawful means and about whom they have a reasonable suspicion of being here illegally.

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