Dec. 17, 2006
VIN SUPRYNOWICZ: Sheriff opposes registration. Really?
In a largely symbolic move reflecting frustration with the unwillingness of the federal government to enforce its own immigration laws, the Pahrump Town Board on Nov. 14 adopted an ordinance that bans the flying of foreign flags by themselves (as opposed to "below the Stars and Stripes," presumably) and declaring English the town's official language.
They also threw in "denying town benefits" to illegal aliens. No one seems sure what benefits those would be.
New Nye County Sheriff Tony DeMeo immediately called the measure unconstitutional and said he wouldn't enforce it. In fact, flag-flying and speaking Spanish are pretty well protected by the First Amendment. On the other hand, the results of official bilingualism in Canada and Belgium range from the silly to the disruptive, and Americans have every right to try and nip in the bud this business of printing duplicate official documents -- even election ballots -- for the convenience of non-assimilating Hispanics ... or Hmong, or Poles, or anyone else.
Meantime, the Constitution does delegate to the Congress in Washington the power to establish a uniform rule of immigration and naturalization, which they have done. But the founding document leaves it unclear whether state and local authorities can undertake to enforce that rule, should the federal executive branch decline to do so, which is the situation currently prevailing. (It has nothing to do with manpower. Look up "Operation Wetback.")
Few would assume county sheriffs are elected because they're experts at constitutional law. (Hope springs eternal, but I've been to Nye County candidate forums in which a solid majority of the sheriff candidates couldn't explain even in general terms the purpose of the 10th Amendment.)
No, the more important issue here is whether local peace officers can and should refuse to enforce laws they consider unconstitutional or offensive to the conscience of their communities.
In response to the controversy, local attorney Bob Nersesian wrote in, last month:
"Wednesday's edition included a letter from a reader chastising the Pahrump sheriff for not enforcing the English-only ordinance. Kudos to the sheriff.
"I suspect sheriffs take an oath to uphold the Constitution, and even if they don't, that remains their responsibility. Too often government gendarmes march lock-step to the dictates of illegal laws, forget the Bill of Rights, and citizens suffer.
"The writer likely failed to recognize that a police officer enforcing a clearly unconstitutional law is also personally liable for the illegal seizure of the individual when he conducts an arrest. Comparison between the First Amendment and the flag preference in the ordinance smacks of this law being unconstitutional.
"For his own self-interest, for the citizens of Pahrump, and for his respect for our founding document, even if the sheriff's actions are not appreciated, in this case they should be respected."
I replied: "Hi, Bob -- Good letter. Now: are law enforcement officers personally liable if they injure someone while enforcing the drug laws, which are unconstitutional under the Ninth Amendment?"
I fear the counselor's faith that government gunmen will be made to personally pay up should they injure or kill anyone while attempting to enforce unconstitutional gun or drug laws (there are no constitutional gun or drug laws) is sadly refuted by the results of every single coroner's inquest ever held in Las Vegas -- and even by the results of the ensuing civil lawsuits, in which it's always the taxpayers who pay up, never the gunmen.
But the saga wasn't to end there. Facing loud protests from resident illegal aliens and their politically correct peanut gallery, the Pahrump Town Board on Tuesday evening shelved a further proposal -- introduced by lame duck board member Michael Miraglia at the behest of former local talk show host Scott Metro -- which would have required all "undocumented foreign nationals" to register at the town office within 24 hours of arrival, paying a $200 fee and listing "all forged or counterfeited documents" in their possession.
But not before Sheriff DeMeo voiced his opinion on this newest plan, as well, telling this newspaper: "Registering people? Why don't we just bring back the internment camps? From the standpoint of law enforcement and human decency, I think it's a very ugly piece of trash."
If the sheriff is a thoughtful man who considers the meaning of his words before he speaks, this should be cause for enormous celebration -- even among those who, like me, are seriously concerned with the failure of the federal government to enforce its own immigration laws, thus encouraging widespread disrespect for the law and skepticism over claims that it's equitably enforced (as though the Drug War weren't already doing a good enough job of that), while requiring taxpayers to fund free schooling and health care for a burgeoning mob of non-English-speaking trespassers.
Imagine: A sheriff who opposes registering people!
Let's see if I have this straight: I'm pulled over this coming year by a sheriff's deputy in Nye County who wants to see evidence that I'm qualified to drive a car. I proudly show him a certificate demonstrating that I passed my driver's education class at E.O. Smith High School in Storrs, Conn., back in 1966 or '67. When the cop says, "No, I need to see your driver's license -- you know, a government-issued photo ID," I can safely reply: "Registering people? Why don't we just bring back the internment camps? From the standpoint of law enforcement and human decency, I think this 'licensing' requirement is a very ugly piece of trash."
At which point Sheriff DeMeo's deputy will reply, "Gosh, what was I thinking? Thank you, sir, for reminding me of how terrible it would be to register law-abiding Americans, assign them numbers, and track them from cradle to grave -- not even letting them hold a job or vote or travel on the highways without presenting on demand a nine-digit Social Slave number and/or a national ID card thinly disguised as a 'driver's license.' Wow, that was close. You drive safely now, and have a nice day."
No? That isn't going to happen? I'll be arrested, instead, like Larry Hiibel up in Humboldt County? But that would mean Sheriff DeMeo thinks it's fine to register law-abiding U.S. citizens -- for his men to pull us over pretty much at random and demand to see our government-issued "travel papers." He only opposes placing such a requirement on illegal foreign trespassers who come here to steal stuff. (Come on -- how many illegal aliens do you know who insist on paying cash in full for their medical care and their kids' private-school educations, in order not to be a burden on U.S. taxpayers?)
I don't get it. Does that make any sense?
Vin Suprynowicz is assistant editorial page editor of the Review-Journal and author of the novel "The Black Arrow." See www.LibertyBookShop.us