The title of this post is allegedly a quote from Voltaire. I think it is as good a title as any for a place to talk about prejudice. For the present we might as well discuss the current fixation with immigration, both legal and illegal. What we are experiencing now is nothing new in American history; the country has been under "assault" from foreign "barbarians" since at least the mid 1840s with the founding of the "American Party"--better known as the "Know Nothing Party." But it wasn't until the early 20th Century that laws were passed to establish a quota system regulating the infusion of "undesirables"--like Italians, Slavic and Jews. According to today's immigration laws, everyone who entered the country (with the possible exception of imported Chinese railroad laborers) was technically "illegal."
But for now I won't discuss how it came to be that most place names in California and the Southwest sound suspiciously Spanish. I happen to believe it is fascinating to discuss the recent exposure of the Department of Homeland Security's so-called "Secure Communities" program, a completely unregulated and unaccountable operation run by the ICE in "coordination with state and local law enforcement. This program, which has been running in virtual secrecy since 2008, purports to focus on "identifying and removing dangerous criminal aliens" in what is called "Level 1" crimes, such as murder, rape and kidnapping. What it does in reality is only now coming under scrutiny.
A just released study from the University of North Carolina in conjunction with the local ACLU has found that the ICE and local police do not in fact “prioritize” their activities by “level” of crime, but cast a wide net over almost wholly Latinos, and not over those accused of serious crimes, but those with immigration status or arbitrary or invented traffic violations—suggesting that the “Secure Communities” is just a cover to intimidate and expel the Latino populations in the various intolerant communities that have signed-up on the program (it should be noted that legal as well as illegal immigrants come under the purview of the program, although U.S. citizens are not immune from being “discomfited” by it). Many of those detained have been arrested based on information from notoriously inaccurate databases that have been accused of leading to many false identification matches—much like the Republican-concocted caging lists that prevented many African-Americans from lawfully voting in Florida merely because of similarities in names with convicted felons without determining if the name and person actually matched.
The "Secure Communities" program isn't the only federal/state/local cooperative with a questionable civil rights pedigree. A 22-year-old student and anti-war activist at Evergreen College in Washington state, Phillip Chinn, recently received a $169,000 award against the State Patrol and others for engaging in "political spying and harassment." Chinn--who had been under surveillance in the belief that he "might" be involved in "violent" activism--was on his way to an anti-war demonstration in Aberdeen when the call came out that he was on the loose. After being spotted by police, Chinn was pulled over for allegedly driving below the speed limit and "braking erratically." He was subsequently arrested for drunk driving, even though he had clearly not ingested any alcohol and passed a sobriety test; the arresting officer justified himself by claiming that Chinn had "raised taste buds." Although Chinn was further vindicated by a blood test, the local DA refused to drop the charges against him until police tapes exposing the deliberate targeting were discovered. Federal involvement in the case comes from the accusation that a civilian employee working for the military's Force Protection Agency infiltrated the anti-war group and fed information to local law enforcement. The FPA is allegedly an anti-terrorism outfit whose mission is to protect the Pentagon and military posts, and amongst its employees are "non-sworn civilian anti-terrorism physical security personnel." Military spokespersons at McChord AFB and Fort Lewis deny that they were violating the Posse Comitatus law, but nevertheless do admit to working "closely" with local law enforcement. What exactly is the nature of this "cooperation" was not specified, but then again, the concept of civil rights hasn't been treated with much deference of late.