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Avoiding hypocrisy on immigration

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Matt K. Lewis
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      Matt K. Lewis

      Matt K. Lewis is a senior contributor to The Daily Caller, and a contributing editor for The Week. He is a respected commentator on politics and cultural issues, and has been cited by major publications such as The Washington Post and The New York Times. Matt is from Myersville, MD and currently resides in Alexandria, VA. Follow Matt K. Lewis on Twitter <a>@mattklewis</a>.

Principled conservatives should be skeptical of Arizona’s recent decision to grant police the power to question illegal aliens (and U.S. citizens) about their immigration status—and to arrest those who cannot show documentation.

The problem, of course, is not what this law does to illegal aliens (who are, by definition, already committing a crime)—but what it does U.S. citizens—many of whom may now endure repeated questioning from police for merely walking down the street.
Much of the problem stems from the words, “reasonable suspicion,” which appear in the bill. After all, illegals don’t advertise their immigration status publicly, and while the law specifically prohibits the police from solely considering race, one can imagine the Arizona police won’t be pulling aside many Canadians, Brits or Swedes for this sort of interrogation.

More likely, the criteria for questioning will include both class and race, meaning that if a Mexican-American lawyer walks down the street in a nice business suit, he’s probably okay, but the law-abiding Mexican-American landscaper may get hassled on a daily basis.

But the truly ironic thing about this debate is that many of the conservatives supporting this law are the very same folks worried about big government’s intrusion into their lives.

Lately, of course, Barack Obama’s imperial presidency—and the rise of the Tea Party movement—has renewed latent worries about the role of Big Brother, and helped reacquaint some conservatives to libertarian ideas.

President Obama and other liberals have irresponsibly demonized Tea Party activists and conservative talk radio hosts, labeling them as potentially responsible for violence. As a result, many conservatives have begun worrying this criticism could have a chilling effect on free speech and the right to dissent politically.  In short, conservatives have recently become more sensitive to the dangers of big government and of the power of the state.  As such, I can’t help but find the willingness of many conservatives to grant the police unprecedented power to question U.S. citizens in Arizona as somewhat ironic.

(There is plenty of hypocrisy to go around, mind you. What is more, it is also worth noting that Democrats are anxious to use this Arizona decision to play “politics,” inasmuch as they are hoping it will excite their Hispanic base in the fall).

Of course, conservative proponents of this bill are understandably outraged by illegal immigration—and the federal governments impotence at stopping it. We all should be.

Proponents also cite the example of a Cochise County rancher who was recently murdered by an illegal immigrant.

But while we can all agree the federal government has failed at protecting our boarders, and while we all mourn the loss of this rancher, just as an instance of gun violence should not be used to justify stricter gun laws, neither should the emotional impact of this case determine public policy positions of national significance.

There are many worthwhile steps that must be taken in order to stem illegal immigration, including increasing border security and cutting off the ability of illegals to gain employment once in the United States.

Supporting tough “law-and-order” immigration laws and individual liberty are not mutually exclusive. What is hypocritical, however, is picking choosing when it’s okay for the government to violate citizens’ individual liberty.

Conservatives should exercise philosophical consistency here. This is a bad decision. Conservative activist Grover Norquist has dubbed the conservative movement the “leave us alone coalition,” and as Justice Brandeis might have said, this law infringes Arizonans’ “right to be left alone”—free from government intrusion. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) should have vetoed it.

Matt Lewis is a conservative writer and blogger, based in Alexandria, Va.

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  • dencal26

    Yes its true that 98% of the illegal aliens in Arizona are Mexican and Mexicans will be targetted. Swedes are not invading Arizona illegally. Nor are Italians, Brazilians or French. Its Mexicans. Not our fault. If the same law was passed in New York I am sure Asians and Russians would be equally affected.

  • libertyatstake

    Now is not the time for faculty lounge debates. And you don’t have illegals running through your backyard. (Of course, neither do I – but I will claim the empathy medal here.)

    Get the border under control – the NUMBER ONE federal responsibility – and we can start talking about the other stuff.

    http://libertyatstake.blogspot.com/
    [For a light hearted take on our present peril]

  • qofdisks

    “There are many worthwhile steps that must be taken in order to stem illegal immigration, including increasing border security and cutting off the ability of illegals to gain employment once in the United States.”
    Increasing border security will not work. Illegal immigration is no more enforceable than the insane prohibition on drugs. As for cutting off employment of illegals in this country, good luck as our politicians on the left and the right are bribed by the very agri-business (and others) that they are supposed to regulate.
    There is only one long term solution to this problem. Rescind NAFTA and Globalization policies that ravage local economies creating millions of economic refugees. If people cannot support themselves where they live, they leave and go somewhere else. If you want Mexicans to stay in Mexico, change American trade policies to enforce humane employment practices and sustainable agriculture in other countries. American trade policies can not promote the destruction of other nation’s agricultural base in the name of subsidized and centralized industrial agriculture and large scale production.
    See the movies, Food Inc. and Corn King.

  • sugar2

    You have to show a valid I.D. to drive! I have to show an I.D to drive! We all have to show an I.D just to breathe! If they want to breathe here, then they also have to show an I.D

    • badash

      Not to mention the mandate that we be required to purchase medical insurance. Which makes me wonder how they’re going to know whether I have it or not. If i’m accused of not having insurance then surely I will be required to provide proof that I have it right?

      So it’s ok to make every American buy health insurance and provide proof they have it, but it’s not ok to ask people to prove they can legally be here. Got it….

  • sugar2

    I don’t know where this is coming from..Anybody that is worried about “reasonable suspicion” as the author put it, forgot about “probable cause”! Didn’t we all give up liberty when the government decided that “probable cause” was enough to pull you over and ask for an I.D.? What makes this any different? You are either legal or you are not. Is anyone gonna tell me that this is any different than what we as legal citizens go through every day? With all due respect, I think MR.Lewis is either very young,very naive, or very mis-informed!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Larry-Downes/1138629959 Larry Downes

    “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety” – Benjamin Franklin.

    Does your driver’s license count as proof that you’re a citizen? No, they can be forged, so if you are a citizen and the law enforcement officer doesn’t accept your driver’s license as a proof of citizenship, what are you going to carry? Your birth certificate?

    We are either free or not. Yes our government should protect our life, liberty and property. But we cannot allow the state to protect life and property at the expense of our liberty. I was in complete support of the Patriot Act until I realized the new guys were asking citizens to turn each other in to the administration if they disagreed with their health care policies. Now the Patriot Act makes me feel queasy, not because I’m involved with anything nefarious, but because I don’t trust the people defining “nefarious”.

    They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety – Benjamin Franklin