Tuesday, June 10, 2003
When violating immigration laws isn't a crime: The Washington Post's Richard Cohen takes the Bush administration and, specifically, Attorney General John Ashcroft to task for locking up 762 illegal immigrants post 9/11 who turned out to have no ties to terrorism.
Let's have it in Cohen's words.
The AG was asked about a report from his own inspector general criticizing the way in which the Justice Department had treated 762 illegal immigrants locked up and detained after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. None of them -- that's precisely zero -- was ever linked to terrorist activities.
What part of the term "illegal immigrants" does Cohen not understand? Illegal immigrants are locked up every day. Of course, limited jail space usually limits those behind bars to those who've committed other crimes or those suspected of committing other crimes. Because we don't have the jail space, or the airlift capability, to handle all of the "illegal" immigrants, Cohen chastises the government for locking up ones who might have terrorist ties.
In the first place, the Justice Department got things exactly backward. In this country, you're innocent until proven guilty -- not the other way around. Second, harsh and inhumane treatment -- keeping the cell illuminated 24 hours a day -- ought not to be tolerated. After all -- and it is worth repeating -- the detainees were never charged with any crime linking them to terrorism. Most of them were detained because they were Muslims or Arabs. In this country, that ain't a crime.
The individuals in question, Mr. Cohen, were guilty of violating immigration laws. That is a crime. There has been no evidence that anyone who could come up with a valid green card was jailed solely on immigration charges. There is no evidence in that report that the detention of those individuals was illegal. I will readily concede Mr. Cohen's second point regarding the lighting, but, in the grand scheme of things, that's pretty tame.
Cohen also connects the detention of illegal immigrants to capital punishment and the fact that DNA testing is exonerating some people on death row. Cohen, who's definitely a foe of capital punishment, neglects the one thing that, thankfully, hasn't happened -- no innocent person has been executed.
Go ahead, connect the dots on Ashcroft yourself. A cavalier attitude toward civil liberties, an inability to concede mistakes, a refusal to see imperfections in the criminal justice system, a zealously irrational belief in the death penalty -- and pretty soon you can read between the lines of that Justice Department report: The attorney general is far more dangerous than any of the immigrants he wrongly detained.
I'd rather have Ashcroft than you, Mr. Cohen, in charge. It's odd that Cohen, along with many of Ashcroft's detractors, warned during his confirmation hearing that he would selectively enforce the laws because of his religious beliefs. He hasn't. So now they attack him for actually enforcing the laws that are on the books -- including the immigration laws.
So who are the ones on a witch hunt now?