Saturday, September 1, 2007

Oops, you really are a citizen

Two interesting articles appeared in the local News & Record this morning. The first described a meeting between Senator Dole and several local sheriffs discussing how local police might work to hold and deport illegal immigrants who are arrested for other crimes. The sheriffs seem amenable to this idea but were concerned about the lack of jail space and other costs.

The role of local law enforcement in addressing illegal immigration has been under debate for some time. The issue seems simple enough--illegal immigrants shouldn't be here anyway. So if someone commits a crime AND is here illegally, don't let him or her out of jail. Instead, deport him or her. While simple in concept, there's the thorny problem of determining exactly who is and is not here legally.

The second article, which described a woman caught in Texas for unpaid parking tickets who was held for 14 hours because she was mistaken for an illegal immigrant, illustrates this specific problem. Luckily for the woman, the mix-up only cost her half of a day. But it's easy to imagine much worse outcomes.

Clearly, some balance needs to be struck, and maybe cases like this, which are likely to grow more frequent, are a price that we will need to pay. However, as mix-ups with the Transportation Security Administration's "No Fly" list and other government lists show, it is easy for innocent citizens to fall down bureaucratic rabbit holes. We should be very careful before making people's freedom contingent on such lists.