Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Oh, Fox

I stumbled across this little Fox News gem this morning: "Team Obama's Immigration Hypocrisy". The article contends that there's a contradiction between the Justice Department opposing state laws requiring police to demand proof of legal presence and the State Department encouraging police to ensure that foreign nationals be granted consular access upon being arrested. The author contends that Justice Department objections to things like the Arizona immigration law imply that the State Department must abandon efforts at Vienna convention compliance when it comes to the arrest and detainment of foreign nationals. "If it [the Obama administration] ... truly believes... that authorities should not be checking the citizenship status of local lawbreakers, than the State Department should withdraw its 'Consular Notification and Access' manual, and stop telling local police officers to comply with the Vienna Convention by checking the citizenship status of criminals".

But this objection completely paves over the differences between legal and illegal presence and citizenship. The majority of non-US citizens in the US are here legally; as such there's all the difference in the world between inquiring into citizenship status and requesting proof of legal residence. I'm regularly asked about my citizenship status and I never interpret this as a question about whether or not I'm in the country legally. The objection also incorrectly conflates what is being asked of the police in these two instances. In the first case it's a requirement to insist on proof of legal presence, whereas in the second it's an attempt to ensure that persons be given the means to avail themselves of their rights under international law. The State Department isn't requiring police to demand proof of citizenship. Conflating the state immigration laws with the State Department efforts is like arguing that offering a guest a snack or a meal is no different from tying him down and force feeding him. The State Department is trying to ensure that non-citizens have an opportunity to contact their embassy, i.e., upholding fundamental legal rights. State immigration laws in practice and intent are something quite quite different.

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