Sunday, June 11, 2006

SOUND OFF: DON'T ASK, DO TELL?

When an ice-cream vendor in Charlotte, N.C., was robbed in late May, a police officer asked him about his legal status as a U.S. resident. The police chief subsequently apologized, since it is departmental policy not to ask victims about their residency status. Charlotte's mayor, concerned about immigration issues, thinks that this policy should be changed.

An editorial in The Charlotte Observer responded that the mayor "needs to back off." While those accused of crimes should have their status checked, the paper argued, checking on the status of victims or witnesses to crimes may cause them not to talk to police "for fear of being busted" if they are in the country illegally.

What do you think? Should residency status be checked on witnesses and victims who might be illegal aliens, even if this might lead to criminals getting away with serious crimes? Or should the current policy stand, because it encourages more people to come forward, report crimes and/or testify against the criminals?

Post your thoughts by clicking on "Comments" or send them to rightthing@nytimes.com
. Please include your name, your hometown and the name of the newspaper in which you read this column. Readers'comments may appear in an upcoming column.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

Your column "Are There Degrees of Wrongness?" appeared in the Charlotte Observer today, and your columns appear regularly therein. At the end of this column, you related the story about the Charlotte ice-cream vendor who was robbed and a police officer asked him for ID, not about his legal status and he couldn't provide it, so the officer told the vendor she intended to report him to immigration, but higherups stopped that investigation and Police Chief Stephens unbelieveably insisted on an official police "apology" to the vendor. How's that for upholding the law? Therefore, your telling of the story, while largely accurate, didn't tell the complete story. Of course, since Mayor McCrory critized Chief Stephens' decision & apology, the event received much publicity in the Charlotte media. I read the Observer editorial saying the Mayor should back off and thought at the time it was wrong-headed in its approach, but the editorial wasn't surprising, since the Observer doesn't like Mayor McCrory, a Republican, since the Observer is extremely liberal and anti-Republican in its editorial stance.

You asked for thoughts. Pretty clearly, avoiding checking for alien status on a person who can't provide ID, on the flimsy excuse that to do so "might" discourage the Latino community from reporting crimes and make them more afraid of police is as wrongheaded as the police apology to the illegal vendor. To jump to the conclusion that checking legal status of Latino's who cannot provide ID might cause them to avoid reporting a crime, leading to more crime is totally wrongheaded and avoids obeying the law. Your column concerns ethics; in fact, your column is headed in the Observer as "Everyday Ethics". Now, there are a lot of things we all do, in our everyday dealings with our fellow men and women, that requires us to ethically do the right thing and that is what I perceive your column deals with. However, the Charlotte police thing has nothing to do with ethics, it is a legal matter, so ethics "leaves the building". We're talking about the status of illegal aliens in this little story. There is no "ethical" decision here, the police may prefer not to alienate Latino's and asking them about their identity may, in a roundabout way cause them to fail to report a crime, but that is for the Latino to decide. If they are going to come to the United States, they had better learn that when you see a crime, you report it. "Feel good" examples like this are why our civilization is in the trouble it is - everyone is being encouraged to do what the "nice thing" is, rather the the "right thing". Sorry, Jeffrey, this is not a "feel good" situation, it's a "right thing" situation.

Sincerely,

Charles V. Seng
Lancaster, SC (35 miles southeast of Charlotte, NC)
Charlotte Observer is my paper of record each day.

Anonymous said...

Personally, I feel that it is better to catch the criminal than to worry about the status of the victim. If a criminal knows that he can prey on vulnerable people who might not report the crime due to their residence status, then illegal residents become very easy targets for those criminals. I would rather arrest the sort of person who would take advantage of people than worry about an illegal alien in those circumstances. Besides, it might be any one of us that is victimized by the criminal and can’t receive the help we need to put that criminal where he belongs because our witnesses are too frightened to help!

Jennie Blair
Columbus, Ohio

Anonymous said...

It should be expected that everyone is innocent until proven guilty. People's ability to report crimes should be independent of laws they may themselves be breaking. However, like the occasional thief who reports being robbed by another thief, they inherently take a risk if they are also breaking the law. If someone is susected of Illegal immigrantion, that should be treated as an independent crime as appropriate. A burglar breaking into someone's house and discovering a more severe crime should be rewarded if they report what they found, but still expect to be punished for their own actions. However, a spec reported in another's eye will have little significance if one has a log in their own eye.

Bill Wotring
Fullerton, California

Anonymous said...

I see no problem with asking someone's legal status, either you are here legally or you're not. Just like a police officer asking for your driver's license if someone rear ends you.
If someone who is in this country illegally is a victim of a crime, they should remember that they committed a crime first. And that offense put them in the position to be a victim. While I'm not saying they should be allowed to be victimized by other criminals, they should be sent home as anyone here illegally should be. The perpetrator should still be brought to justice as if the crime was committed to any legal citizen.
As for the" fear of being busted", they should be fearful, they are breaking the law. When you are doing something illegal, you throw away some of the rights afforded to law abiding citizens.
This politically correct attitude of not asking about someone's legal status is only helping the criminals and hurting honest, law abiding, taxpaying citizens.


Mark Jones
Huntington Beach, CA

Anonymous said...

I agree with the editorial writer that crime victims / witnesses should not be interrogated regarding their residency status during the course of the crime investigation. To do so will only stifle the police's efforts to reduce crime in any area.

Jim Thomson
Huntington Beach, CA

Anonymous said...

What is the point of asking a crime victim their legal status? First of
all, this is America where we supposedly aren't supposed to have to show ID
internally just to move around.

And what are the implications of asking crime victims about their legal
status? Likely that just means that crime victims who are undocumented
won't report crimes or cooperate with police. And it will contribute to
people ripping them off.

Which is more important, the victims residence status or that a crime was
allegedly committed against them? I would say that, the issue of a crime
having been committed would be the more important issue, especially when a
local police agency is concerned.

Now in the case of those committing crimes, yes, their legal status should
be checked and if they are undocumented they should be turned over to
Federal authorities for deportation or even have it arranged to serve their
sentence in their home country if possible. And even for those who have
immigrated legally, if they commit serious crimes, they should also be
deported. There are plenty of people who want to come here for a better
life and to contribute to this country. Those who commit crimes, whether
they are undocumented or legal immigrants should be deported (at least if
it is more than a minor incident).

Kathi Robinson , Mission Viejo, CA

Anonymous said...

Jeffrey,

I read your column in the June 11 issue of the Charlotte Observer and I have the following comments:

1. When conducting a survey or soliciting comments on a question, is it wrong (as you have done) to frame questions in such a way as to influence the responses?

2. If one violates the law (by being an illegal alien) is this all right if you are a victim or or witness to a crime, and only wrong if you are the perpetrator of another crime?

Jack E. Stegall
Monroe, North Carolina

Anonymous said...

The Right Thing
New York Times Syndicate
609 Greenwich St.
6th Floor
New York, NY 10014-3610

VIA e-mial: rightthing@nytimes.com

Sound Off on Illegal Immigration

You posed a question based on crime victims’ fear of deportation if
police determine that the victim is an illegal immigrant.

The police are tasked with enforcing civil law—all civil law.

A society is based on laws, and the instant members of the community
decide to not live by the law, and are encouraged to do so by lack of
enforcement, society begins to fail.

It is the slippery slope. Illegal immigration is illegal behavior. If
local law enforcement stops processing illegal immigrants for their
immigration status, it encourages those who have crossed the border
illegally to tell their friends, family, and other connections that it
is safe to live in the United States as illegal alien. The safe haven
afforded by municipalities is what has led to the explosion of illegal
aliens living in the United States.

An overwhelming majority of Americans believe that illegal immigration
is a national problem. Unfortunately, many also believe that the
problem is so large that there are no easy solutions to the problem.

The lack of local enforcement, first pioneered in Los Angeles by former
Chief of Police Darrell Gates some 20 years ago under “Special Order
40” and later adopted by departments nationwide, gave illegal
immigrants footholds in communities throughout Southern California.
Once immigrant communities gained strength in the metropolitan Los
Angeles area, they began branching out to other areas of the country.

There are many schools in the Los Angeles area where Spanish is the
dominant language. My son used to attend a school that was 70% English
learners. The vast majority of the students were children of illegal
immigrants. Some of these children were born in the U.S., while others
were illegal immigrants themselves. Parent Teachers Association
meetings were held in Spanish and translated to English, a process that
disenfranchised this English speaking parent from fully participating
in activities at my child’s school.

I believe that the vast majority of illegal immigrants live quietly
below the radar of law enforcement. This has led to communities of
illegal immigrants living outside of our tax collection process by
holding jobs that are off the books, swap meet vendors who pay no sales
tax on the proceeds of their commerce, patients who flood emergency
rooms without health insurance, overcrowding in schools, and
competition for housing and other resources within the community.

It also leads to crime in areas where criminals prey on illegal
immigrants, and gangs develop when youngsters in the illegal immigrant
communities feel disenfranchised from the shadow community of their
illegal immigrant parents.

The Special Order 40 theory of law enforcement has allowed criminal
elements from foreign countries to thrive in the United States, most
notably the MS13 paramilitary gang that was germinated out of the
strife in El Salvador. MS13 boasts tens-of -thousands of members in the
United States and funds its illicit activities with international drug
trafficking.

These are just a few examples of how ignoring the immigration status of
those here illegally starts undermining the foundations of our society
based on laws.

The overhelming message that I've taken from the non-enforcement of
immigration laws is that the government has begun abdicating the
authority to enforce any law. If larger and larger groups within our
country live without regard to our laws, the laws themselves become
harder and harder to enforce at every level.


Teresa Shuff Trujillo
Fullerton, CA 92831

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Seglin,

I am writing about both the subjects in your 11 June (Sunday) column.

The first was about a person who willfully cheated a store out of $600
by taking advantage of a cashier's mistake, and then thumbed his nose
at the manager.

I have to wonder: the store did not pursue this particular case
against this person, but would he have the nerve to show his face there
again? Would they spread the word about him? Could they? And does
"PK" still call this person a friend?

And about the ice cream vendor in Charlotte, and police policy of not
asking victims about legal status: The Charlotte Observer was right
that Mayor McCrory needs to back off. Illegal immigration is a huge
issue, but whichever side you espouse, being an illegal immigrant is
not a violent crime like robbery, assault, rape or murder.

Plolice and District Attorneys and other law enforcement agencies cut
deals with criminals and accused all the time in their efforts to
collect information on all kinds of crime. This situation with
illegals should be no different.

Maggie Nelson (a Charlotte Observer subscriber)
Monroe, NC

Anonymous said...

Mr. Seglin,

Re your excellent column of June 11 that I read in The Charlotte Observer : Like you, I hate cheaters, and this is a dilemma. You asked for thoughts, so here are mine:

Ordinarily, when police check out a crime, they don't ask the victim if he, say, ever smoked pot, shoplifted, or committed some other crime himself. They deal with the immediate problem. However, let's say that there had been a series of crimes in an area - maybe vandalism or graffiti by long-haired teenagers or car break-ins by white middle-aged men with mustaches. The police would be on the lookout for them. So, in the unlikely event that one of these people was the victim of a crime and reported it, would not the investigating officer be duty-bound and owe it to society to ask questions about a similarity between the victim and others who had committed such crimes in the area? Not harassment, mind you, a simple series of questions (not that he/she would be likely to get honest answers, of course).
Sure, there are "degrees of wrongness," and you can assign any degree you want to crossing the border illegally in hopes of bettering your life and that of your family. Those people are taking a huge risk. One by one, they are not a problem, but collectively, they have put a huge strain on our social support systems. Whether or not their contributions to our economy outweigh the negatives is under debate, but the fact remains: they broke our laws. Forget cultural assimilation for the time being; that will probably come. In the meantime, one of the many risks they took (including bandits on the way here, inability to communicate with medical personnel in an emergency, etc.) is their potential victimization once they arrive (like the rest of us).
We all feel for good people who are victims of crime, but if they sneaked under a fence in the dark of night, they knew they were doing something wrong for their own benefit and should therefore be prepared to pay the consequences of reporting or not reporting a criminal act that they experienced. I think that it is our responsibility to enforce our laws and that we should feel compassion towards those less fortunate than us, but we shouldn't feel guilty about insisting that everyone "plays by the rules."

Phil Clutts
Charlotte, NC http://home.earthlink.net/~pclutts/

Anonymous said...

To: Jeffrey L. Seglin
Below are my comments on this subject. I sent this to the Charlotte
Observer. I support the policy of the Charlotte-Meck Police Dept., but as a
Muslim I see a double-standard in the way immigration laws are "selectively"
enforced. When the Pakistani Kamron Akhtar was arrested in Charlotte for
taking pictures of our skyline the double-standard was clearly shown. At
the time, I organized a community meeting with Law enforcement and Charlotte
Muslims to discuss this issue and how they chose to deal with his arrest. I
also work with a local outreach group called, "Charlotte's Sandbox" that
works to build trust and understanding between law enforcement (local and
FBI) and minority and international communities. This group has the same
philosophy when dealing with victims of crimes and/or witnesses.

>From: "Jibril Hough"
>Subject: In response to "Mayor: City can't hide issue"
>Date: Wed, 07 Jun 2006 10:01:24 -0400
>
>To the Editor:
> In response to "Mayor: City can't hide issue", (June, 4 Observer): I
>fully support the Char-Meck Police Dept. and Chief Stephens policy of
>"don't ask, don't tell" when dealing with possible illegal immigrants who
>are the victims of crimes. This policy goes a long way towards building
>trust between the authorities and immigrant communities.
> But the vast double-standard in how many "illegal immigrants" are treated
>reveals a "selective enforcement". When Kamron Akhtar, the Pakistani who
>was arrested in Charlotte for taking pictures of our skyline was arrested,
>he was treated like a possible terrorist and the arresting officer was even
>given an award and introduced to the President. Akhtar, was simply a
>tourist visiting Charlotte with an expired visa. The recent apology issued
>to the Hispanic community, by the Char-Meck Police Dept., for turning the
>information about an illegal, Hispanic immigrant, is one example of the
>double-standard that many in the arab, south-east asian and Muslim
>communities see all too clearly.
> Trust is very important in order to help Authorities and our many
>different communities work together to solve crimes and build safe and
>secure communities. But the singling out of one community over the other
>and "selective enforcement" is not the answer.
>
>Jibril Hough
Chairman, Islamic Political Party of America
>Charlotte, NC
I read your column in the Charlotte Observer.
>

Carroll said...

The self righteousness of some of the comments about "illegal aliens"
amazes me utterly. And a bald statement that ethics "leaves the building" if there is a "crime" takes my breath away.

I guess this chap would have had no problem with Nazi edicts. After all,they were laws, so ethics "left the building." Clean conscience, gas chambers or no. yes, this makes me shudder.

In law school they taught me that there were two kinds of laws-- there was "malum prohibitum" and there was "malum in se". That is, some things were simply illegal because some law said so, and some were wrong by their nature. Evil in and if themselves.


Immigration laws are the former. I got curious whether my Russian Jewish ancestors were "legal immigrants." you know what I discovered? there WERE no immigration laws when they arrived. This did most of our ancestors arrive on these shores. (Those of you who are full blooded "native American Indians" can stand excpeted.)

now, people leave their homes and families and risk death to come to this country due to grinding poverty, and we self righteously denounce them as "criminals."

not only has ethics apparently "left the building"-- so have compassion and, alas... reason.

No, the police should not threaten reporting crime victims to "la migra"!!!

Carroll said...

The self righteousness of some of the comments about "illegal aliens"
amazes me utterly. And a bald statement that ethics "leaves the building" if there is a "crime" takes my breath away.

I guess this chap would have had no problem with Nazi edicts. after all,they were laws, so ethics left the building. Gas chambers? no problema. God help us!

In law school they taught me that there were two kinds of laws-- there was "malum prohibitum" and there was "malum in se". That is, some things were simply illegal because some law said so, and some were wrong by their nature. Evil in and if themselves.


Immigration laws are the former. I got curious whether my Russian Jewish ancestors were "legal immigrants." you know what I discovered? there WERE no immigration laws when they arrived. Thus did most of our ancestors arrive on these shores. (Those of you who are full blooded "native American Indians" can stand excepted.)

Now, people leave their homes and families in Mexico and South America and risk death to come to this country due to grinding poverty, and we self righteously denounce them as "criminals."

not only has ethics apparently "left the building"-- so have compassion and, alas... reason.

No, the police should not threaten reporting crime victims to "la migra"!!!

I get this column on e-mail BTW

Anonymous said...

There is no reason for local police to ask status in a case like this. If this were permitted they could ask if your marriage were legal, your kids legitimate, your credit rating, etc. Think about the irrelevant questions you could be asked that you wouldn't want to answer.
Jackson, Wyoming is now 20-25% Hispanic. It is not unusual for members of a family to have different immigration status. One I know personally: The father is legal, mother is illegal (she was afraid to apply for an extension of her green card in case it was denied,)son is illegal, daughter is an American citizen. What should this father do if their home is robbed and the police ask the status of each of them? Not so simple! PS Jackson Hole would grind to a halt if our illegal immigrants were deported. We have about 6 million tourists a year. Uh Oh America!

Annymous
Wilson WY

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