Washington Post conservative columnist Michael Gerson is one of many punits
who sympathize with Arizona's challenges on illegal immigration, and yet condemn
the state's new law. His opposition, outlined in a Wednesday column, is hardly shared by all conservatives. In fact, Gerson's column put him at odds with fellow conservative commentator Byron York of the Washington Examiner. Their exchange neatly encapsulates the debate over the law
over the past few days.
- 'Understandable--And Dreadful ' This is how Gerson,
a former Bush speechwriter, described the law in his Wednesday
column. He criticized it for encouraging racial profiling, and added
that "Americans are not accustomed to the command 'Your papers,
please,' however politely delivered. The distinctly American response
to such a request would be 'Go to hell,' and then 'See you in court.'"
- 'What America Is Gerson Living In?' asks the The Washington Examiner's Byron York.
we are not confronted by actors with heavy German accents demanding our
papers. We are instead confronted routinely by people of all stripes
asking to see our driver's license. When we board an airplane, we are
asked to produce a government-issued photo ID, usually a driver's
license. When we make some credit- or debit-card purchases in
department stores, we are asked to produce a driver's license. When we
enter many office buildings, both private and government, security
guards often ask us to produce a driver's license. When we go to
doctors' offices and hospitals, we are asked to produce a driver's
license. When we check into hotels, we are asked to produce a driver's
license. When we purchase some over-the-counter drugs, we are asked to
produce a driver's license. If we go to a bar or nightclub, anyone who
looks at all young is asked to produce a driver's license. And needless
to say, if we have any encounter with police or other authorities, we
are asked to produce a driver's license.
- 'A Basic Distinction' Gerson responds by accusing York of trying to "slip the surly bonds of
sense and argue that the demand by police to provide identification is
inherently unobjectionable in every circumstance because it is
unexceptional in some circumstances." That makes no sense, he says: "an
entrance exam for college entry is expected. An entry exam at a polling
place in unconstitutional." Or, to tighten the analogy further:
am more than happy to provide my identification to an officer who
clocks me speeding. I would be less cooperative if I were stopped
because conservative, overweight, white men were declared by
implication to be a criminally suspect class by the state of Virginia.
- But This Isn't Racial Profiling "Gerson's white-guy analogy," retorts York,
"makes sense only if you believe the new Arizona law allows police to
engage in racial profiling and stop Hispanics simply because they are
Hispanic." But through Arizona's governor may have failed to explain
the idea of "reasonable suspicion" coherently, York points out that
there is, in fact, a meaning for it "developed in many, many years of
case law. Police and prosecutors act in accordance with those
meanings." This is not just giving police officers a blank check to
halt Hispanics on the street. Ultimately, he concludes, "If you are in
the United States illegally, you have reason to fear interactions with
the police or any other government authority."
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