THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 406, February 18, 2007
"Simply the best libertarian novel to come
along in a quarter of a century or so."
Special to The Libertarian Enterprise
Many things in this country have changed since that awful day in September of 2001. The 9/11 attacks made us all just a little more aware of our own vulnerability. They made us think about how the rest of the world perceives us and why. And they scared us enough to let our political representatives have free reign to do whatever they liked as long as it was done in the name of keeping us safer from future attacks.
One thing our political representatives did was to form a special committee. The 9/11 Committee was charged with finding out how it was the attacks happened, and then to make recommendations to ensure such attacks didn't happen again. Among other pertinent factors, the 9/11 Committee took notice of the fact that some of the 19 men responsible for the attacks had legal driver's licenses despite the fact they weren't legally entitled to them. Those licenses, in turn, made it easy for them to have bank accounts and to get on airplanes.
Congress responded by passing the REAL ID Act which effectively establishes a national ID. REAL ID is defended by proponents as being proactive against terrorism and illegal immigration alike because it requires proof of citizenship before an ID can be issued. It also requires certain biometric identifiers be encoded into the card which will, in theory, make the IDs more difficult to forge. Finally, it mandates all of the information on all of the IDs be entered into a searchable national database. REAL ID is, as of this writing, scheduled to go into effect in May of 2008.
REAL ID has some problems, of course. Privacy advocates are deeply concerned over the implications of the biometric data and the database. Some have gone so far as to have referred to REAL ID as an aid for identity thieves. Many states are none too pleased because compliance with REAL ID -- though the Department of Homeland Security has still not told them what compliance will involve, we have some idea -- will be far more expensive than the federal government is willing to reimburse. To add insult to injury, many critics also acknowledge that those with enough money and desire can forge pretty much anything.
At the same time, those who defend REAL ID say over and over again that it will help to prevent illegal immigration (it won't) by preventing illegal immigrants from getting driver's licenses. That's a swell idea, except that illegals already drive now without licenses in many states, and with licenses in several. While REAL ID will unquestionably deal with the latter, it will do nothing at all to prevent the former. Besides, and to put it bluntly, illegal aliens don't care about driver's licenses.
What illegal aliens do care about is whether or not they can get across the border. After all, they couldn't very well enter the country illegally if they couldn't enter the country at all! Unfortunately, and particularly where our southern border is concerned, entering the country isn't a big problem for many.
You know who else doesn't really care about driver's licenses? Terrorists. Oh, sure, it would make some things easier. But in the main, terrorists care about the same thing illegal aliens do, and that's whether or not they can get across the border. And, just like the real illegal aliens with little more on their minds than sneaking across the Rio Grande and getting a job, they're not likely to have a whole lot of trouble doing it.
Since 9/11, people wanting to enter the country legally have a slightly more difficult time doing so. Applications are now checked more thoroughly, and visas are monitored. That's one reason that many people think that the next terrorists wanting to launch an attack will be sneaking across our borders rather than applying for a visa. At the same time, and despite 9/11, little has been done to deal with our lack of border security. Sure, there have been a few high profile arrests. But most people, including those who work for the government and who claim to be doing their jobs, acknowledge that only a relatively small percentage of illegal border crossings is foiled.
You'd think that such circumstances would be a priority for the federal government to address. It claims, after all, to be putting terror attack prevention at the very top of its "to do" list. It points to things like the USA PATRIOT Act (which, despite promises to the contrary, has already been used repeatedly for non-terror related investigations) and REAL ID (which, it bears repeating, isn't going to do much of anything but cost a lot and infringe on the privacy of law abiding Americans). But these and similar government ventures are, it seems to me, about two things other than the fight against terror: They're about removing inconvenient impediments for law enforcement and about gaining a measure of control over law abiding Americans.
The USA PATRIOT Act, the infamous domestic surveillance program undertaken by the NSA at the President's almost certainly unconstitutional request, and the Military Commissions Act have effectively suspended Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendment rights. The first two have been broadly used against American citizens who have had little recourse in this new "guilty until proven innocent" system of topsy-turvy justice. The latter, meanwhile, contains such a loose definition of terrorist that it's perfectly conceivable that anyone who speaks out against it or any other government program deemed "necessary" in the "war on terror" could be labeled a threat.
REAL ID will require law abiding Americans -- all of us -- to provide biometric data that will be ensconced in a government database (I doubt I need to belabor the insecurity or the errors such databases inevitably include). Information likely to be required -- and tracked -- by federal authorities is likely to include everything from job histories (the REAL ID will be required to work) to bank information (it will be required to open a bank account), and from travel (required to board an airplane immediately, and probably trains and buses as transportation security measures expand and increase) all the way to a potential for real time tracking (don't laugh; RFID chips are likely to be part and parcel of the DHS list of requirements, and such chips are increasing in storage, power, and transmission capabilities at an almost exponential rate).
Okay, so that's what you and I have to deal with. What about illegal border crossings? You know, the thing that places us in the most immediate danger? That place down south or up north where it's most likely we'll suffer a security breach? Well, that's another story.
Congress issued something of a sop to immigration reform fans as the lame duck Republicans tried to do something -- anything! -- to show they were serious about border security at the end of 2006: It approved the building of a 700 mile wall on some of the most popular crossing areas between the United States and Mexico. That sounds good on the surface, but it was as much lip service to border security as are the more harmful to freedom legislation it passed into law long before. No funding was approved. A solid wall will likely be an environmental nightmare resulting in myriad suits to delay its construction even if funding were to be approved (though I can't claim to always side with the environmentalist lobby, in this case electronic measures are better, cheaper, and far less damaging to the habitat to boot). And the incoming Democrat majority isn't likely to let any of it happen anyway.
Meanwhile, the President who so earnestly tells us from our television screens that he wants to control illegal immigration and to protect us from terrorists is actively encouraging illegal immigration by offering up amnesty programs. He's promising Social Security payments to Mexican workers even if they worked here illegally. And he's neither promoting the building of any fences nor adequately beefing up the Border Patrol as has been repeatedly recommended by more factions than one. But there may be nothing that gives lie to his promises of security more credibly than his or his government's words and deeds toward those who would actually do the job he claims he's interested in doing himself.
The Minuteman Project was first conceived and initiated to assist a Border Patrol that was admittedly understaffed. The President, instead of expressing gratitude for the volunteerism and patriotic mission of the group, chose to disparage members as "vigilantes." Now an Arizona politician wants to make the Minutemen -- in fact, anybody who would dare to defend his property against wrongdoing with a firearm -- a class of domestic terrorist! Such a "crime" under her proposed law would be considered a felony.
Meanwhile, some among the Border Patrol are doing their best to do what they can to stem the flow of illegal immigrants, illegal drugs, and perhaps terrorists. But I suspect there are fewer of those men doing their best today after what happened in recent weeks to a pair of their fellows! Agents Jose Alonso Compean and Ignacio Ramos recently began serving lengthy prison sentences. Why? Because they actually had the nerve to fire at a drug smuggler. (That's simplifying a more complex case, of course, but the bottom line is that the only "crime" the pair apparently committed was to fail to report that they'd fired their weapons -- something they may have ignored since they thought they'd missed when their target kept running and made it across the border.)
Various Congressional Representatives have gone to bat for Compean and Ramos, and a union representing border agents is demanding that a special counsel be appointed to conduct an investigation. Politicians and citizens alike have asked the President to pardon the pair (I disagree since I believe pardons are only for those who've done something wrong and have repented of it), and his only comment has been to the effect that pardons have a process that the two must follow. US Attorney Johnny Sutton maintains he did the right thing in prosecuting the pair, but the evidence is mounting that there's more to the story than Sutton has cared to reveal to date. Meanwhile, two men are in prison for doing the right thing: protecting our borders, something the President claims he actually supports, and he's doing nothing about it.
Deputy Sheriff Gilmer Hernandez was recently prosecuted by another government prosecutor. His crime? He shot at a vehicle filled with illegals after the vehicle tried to run him down. One bullet inadvertently hit and wounded an occupant. Gilmer was convicted of violating the woman's civil rights, and he languishes in jail cell today awaiting sentencing next month when he should be on the job and wearing a medal for what he did and what he tried to do. His boss is defending his actions; residents of his city have mounted a "Free Gilmer" campaign. Although a Texas Congressman is working to right the wrongs here, the White House is once again silent.
I'd believe that the government took terrorism seriously if it took the most obvious and most effective steps before taking more roundabout, intrusive, and difficult ones. I believe that the first among those obvious steps would be to secure our borders. And the second thing that it should do in that regard is to praise those of its representatives and citizens who are doing their best to ensure that that's just what happens. Instead, some of these men are in a position of having to risk being called criminal for defending their country, and others are in danger of prosecution of they happen to actually be good at their jobs.
I'd like to see these men exonerated and their jobs restored to them. Pinning a medal on their chest or presenting them with a citation would be nice, too, though I'm betting that's not why any of them took their duties seriously to begin with. The President, who is so good at taking authority even where it may not exist, should exercise the authority he actually has and reign in these malicious prosecutions. Further, he should issue an order that ensures even the most obtuse attorney can grasp the notion that "civil liberties" don't include the right not to get shot by law enforcement when you're in the midst of committing a crime, nor does it count as a violation if you get shot while making others fear for their lives.
There are those asking for pardons for Agents Compean and Ramos. I suspect requests for a pardon are on the way for Deputy Hernandez, too. I believe that each should be exonerated forthwith. If you ask me, the only unpardonable acts here have been committed by those prosecutors involved, and the one unpardonable sin is the President's abject failure to do anything about either our border security or about protecting in any way the men and women who will.