In the ancient game of scapegoating minorities, what the right calls “alternative facts” are useful for politicians with ill intent.
Case in point: the eminently greasy Steve Smith — Republican state Senator, immigrant-hater, and chairman of the state Senate Commerce and Public Safety Committee — who belches forth bogus facts like he just swallowed The Art of the Deal.
Smith even has his own alternative Constitution, which says whatever he wants it to say.
He angrily cited this imaginary parchment during a recent hearing in his committee discussing Senate Bill 1279, a Smith-sponsored attempt at punishing the undocumented for being undocumented.
“I’ve heard talk about the 14th Amendment,” Smith said. “The Constitution is written for United States citizens. It’s not written for the world; it’s written for our country.”
Smith was not the only person spouting this nonsense at the hearing. Speakers in favor of SB 1279, which would mete out harsher sentences to undocumented aliens convicted of felonies than citizens or legal aliens, also believed that the U.S. Constitution does not apply to people in the U.S. sans papers.
When I told Phoenix immigration attorney Delia Salvatierra about Smith’s claim — one of the oldest canards in the nativist playbook — she laughed out loud.
“The Constitution says, ‘We the people,’” she said. “And includes anybody within our borders.”
The U.S. Supreme Court has so ruled on so many occasions that the concept might as well be carved in granite. There are some rights that non-citizens do not share with citizens, but illegal and legal aliens on U.S. soil, in general, enjoy the protections of the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and 14th Amendments. This is especially so in criminal courts.
During the committee hearing, the 14th Amendment came up because it declares that states cannot “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property” without due process, nor can states “deny to any person within its jurisdiction” equal protection under the law.
The use of the word “person” is significant. In its 1982 decision Plyler v. Doe , the high court found that states cannot deny an education to undocumented kids. Referring to the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause, the majority ruled that, “Whatever his status under immigration laws, an alien is a ‘person’ in any ordinary sense of the term.”
But Smith’s bill would treat the undocumented differently from citizens and legal aliens after a felony conviction. It does this in the name of protecting the public from illegal aliens given probation for previous offenses, like the one that killed 21 year-old Mesa Quik Trip clerk Grant Ronnebeck in 2015.
Hence, Smith calls his bill “Grant’s Law,” cynically using the young man’s murder to damn an entire class of people.
To this end, Smith wants to alter the sentencing options for the undocumented. State judges normally have a range of sentencing options, from minimum to maximum, and somewhere in between, referred to as a “presumptive” sentence.
SB 1279 mandates that a judge sentence an illegal alien found guilty of a felony to the presumptive or maximum sentence. Unlike normal convicts, who must serve 85 percent of time sentenced, an illegal alien would have to do 100 percent.
Undocumented individuals convicted of a felony would not be eligible for probation, suspension of sentence, or release for any other reason.
“We keep hearing about how do you enforce the border?” said Smith, likening his bill, positively, to 2010’s infamous Senate Bill 1070. “You have a border enforcement, a fence, [and] you have an internal enforcement, a bill like this.”
Not a good comparison, Senator. The Supreme Court ruled in its 2012 decision on 1070, Arizona v. United States, that three sections of the anti-immigrant law were pre-empted by federal law.
SCOTUS let stand a section requiring cops to ask the feds about a detainee’s immigration status, if reasonable suspicion exists that a detainee is in the country illegally. But only if the stop is not prolonged for that purpose
The ruling recognized the federal government’s “broad, undoubted power over immigration and alien status,” stating that when it comes to immigration “even complementary state regulation is impermissible.”
This is where the worm turns in the dark days of our republic. Now that Donald Trump is POTUS, the federal government’s supremacy in the field of immigration promises a frightening future for anyone in our country unlawfully.
The Los Angeles Times is reporting that as many as 8 million people here illegally could be targeted for deportation under Trump’s recent executive order on immigration.
The paper may not be off the mark. The order has done away with the Obama administration’s prioritization of serious criminals for removal, opening the door to a dragnet of epic proportions.
Not only would those convicted of a criminal offense be faced with deportation proceedings, according to the order, so would those accused of committing a crime, as well as those who “have committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense.”
A Vox.com analysis of Trump’s order observed that there is no distinction made between felonies and misdemeanors, extending the criminal alien category “to its furthest extreme.”
Deportations under Trump may make President Obama look like a piker. Before he ordered into existence the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which may not survive the Trump administration, Obama was known as the “Deporter-in-Chief” to many in the pro-immigration movement.
An ABC News report from 2016 credited Obama with a record 2.5 million deportations during his tenure, more than any other president in history.
Trump wants 10,000 more immigration agents to apprehend all of the aliens now deemed removable. He also wants a border wall, has plans to punish “sanctuary jurisdictions,” and is reviving programs that enlisted the aid of local police agencies to assist in collaring undocumented aliens.
This will all cost a lot of moolah, and whether or not he gets it from the Republicans in Congress remains an open question.
Otherwise, count on prisons and detention centers being filled to capacity. Already overtaxed federal immigration courts will be jam-packed. Currently, it can take up to two years or more on average for an illegal alien’s case to be finalized.
Right-wing Arizona Congressman Andy Biggs has introduced H.R. 486, which, if enacted, might help Trump’s nefarious plans.
The bill would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act so that illegal immigrants accused of a broad swath of crimes are nonbondable, just as those convicted of such crimes are. Like Smith, Biggs also calls his legislation “Grant’s Law,” because Ronnebeck’s killer was out on an immigration bond, facing a deportation hearing at the time of the slaying.
Biggs’ proposed law would punish millions for the crime of one. Under H.R. 486, immigration removal proceedings would have to take place within 90 days of arrest.
Salvatierra’s colleague at her firm, Johnny Sinodis, summed up the mess this would create.
“Some people are going to reach the end of their removal proceedings before they finish their criminal case,” he told me after reading Biggs’ bill. “If you get deported from the country, then you’ve got a bench warrant, or the prosecuting agency can proceed to trial in your absence.”
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Not surprisingly, Trump has offered the Ronnebeck killing, and those like it, as pretext for his draconian immigration overhaul.
But there is something fundamentally un-American about punishing the many for the sins of the few. On the other hand, it is the essence of scapegoating.
Some relish the notion and call it justice. Rather, it is the perversion of justice, which in Trump’s America may be the new normal.