This morning’s Washington Post contains another disturbing example of how we should not be addressing illegal immigration issues in this country. In Virginia, a little noticed state law has gone into effect that requires the state’s jails to inform federal immigration officials about all of their foreign-born inmates. This law was modeled after a similar local ordinance in one of Virginia’s counties, an ordinance that now has made its way on to the law books in some 60 other jurisdictions nationwide, and for which the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency has a budget of $42 million.
Perhaps, some of that $42 million could be spent teaching the foreigners who wish to become citizens about the U.S. Constitution. The fourteenth amendment to that document contains something called the equal protection clause, guaranteeing that no person shall be denied the equal protection of the laws. That clause has been twisted before, most famously in Plessy v. Ferguson, which gave us the doctrine of separate but equal and thereby laid the legal groundwork for Jim Crow. The new Virginia law makes no distinction between citizen and non-citizen, and you have to wonder how the Virginia prison officials determine who is foreign born. An accent? Skin color? Last time I checked there are plenty of men and women serving in Iraq who have accents and dark skin.
While reading this article, I was overcome with the desire that the Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger would get himself arrested in Virginia this week. He is foreign born. Wouldn’t you feel safer knowing that your tax dollars were at work requiring officials of the Commonwealth of Virginia to notify the feds that they had the former Terminator, now Governor, in their clutches? Governor Jennifer Granholm of Michigan is also foreign born. The next time the Dublin-born Most Rev. Kevin Farrell, Bishop of Dallas and former auxiliary bishop of Washington, flies back to DC for a visit to his old stomping grounds, he should be careful when he deplanes at National Airport, which is on the Virginia side of the Potomac: no traffic violations your excellency! And, don’t even look at the roster of your favorite baseball team.
This new law is an invitation to racism pure and simple. It is unconstitutional on its face. It will be challenged in the courts assuredly and will be thrown out. In a damning admission, the ICE is not even tracking information about what eventually happens to those who are reported to them. Officials at the agency were happy to tell the Post reporter that they do not have the funds to deport as many as they would like. “We’d like to detain everyone,” said James Pendergraph, the official charged with overseeing the ICE program, doing a fine imitation of one of the characters in George Orwell’s “1984.”
Did this Mr. Pendergraph work at FEMA before? Maybe, in the Levee department? Actually, he was a sheriff in North Carolina and was happy to share his views on illegal immigration with a reporter from the Charlotte Observer. "We’ve got millions of illegal immigrants that have no business being here,” he told that newspaper. “These people are coming to our country without documents, and they won’t even assimilate.” Mr. Pendergraph is entitled to his views. The First Amendment guarantees him that right. But, the Fourteenth Amendment requires that persons be equally treated before the law and his barely concealed racist commentaries should have disqualified him from his post.
Michael Sean Winters