Legal Doesn’t Make It Right

I graduated from high school with 46 other people in a town of 2100.  That wasn’t the largest town I’ve ever lived in as a kid.  I also lived in towns with populations approaching 3600.  I guess those aren’t even really towns.  They’re more like villages.  But my point is that it’s a number I can wrap my head around.  I know in my bones what it takes to walk from one end of a village that size and back again.  I know what it means to ride your bike around a town that size.  How many of those people you would know.  How many would know you.  Who gets a couple of fingers briefly raised off the steering wheel when you pass them and who gets a honk.  Who can be counted on to get your car out of a field.  Who put it in there.

It’s a little unit of measurement that makes the world make sense.  That’s the size of where I’m from.

In the two years we’ve had Sheriff Hall’s 287(g) program, he’s made two villages disappear.  Five thousand people that did live here now don’t.  Not by choice, but by Sheriff Hall’s decision.  That man has the power to make a village of people a year disappear.  Poof.  Gone.  Vanished from our landscape.

Now, Nashville, I want to ask you a question.

Did you notice?

Do you feel safer?  Do you feel that the jobs they “stole” are now easier for you to get?  Is the Hispanic population in this city now at a level you’re comfortable with?  In other words, the program is working.  Can you tell?

Because, I have to say that, from my perspective, as a white woman who is out and about, I can’t tell that we’re missing 5,000 Nashvillians.  I don’t feel like crime is down.  My next-door neighbor just got broken into.  I know jobs aren’t easier to get.  My brother is still out of work.  And I still see a lot of Hispanic people around.  As a hippie liberal, I don’t mind sharing the city with people who are not like me, but I’m wondering, if people who are different than you make you uncomfortable, do you feel less uncomfortable now?

And it really bothers me in a way that’s making it hard for me to write this post that 5,000 people in this city can disappear over the course of two years, a population twice the size of the town I graduated high school from, and I can’t see it.  I don’t see it.  The Sheriff takes a population the size of my measuring block of the world out of the city and it’s not noticeable to me.  It makes you wonder, could he get rid of 5,000 people like you without the rest of the city really noticing?

And let’s talk about the genius of it both working and not working.  It works in that Hall has disappeared 5,000 people, but it has not worked in that most of Nashville hasn’t really noticed (you know, unless it’s your mom or brother or your husband; then you notice like your heart is on fire).  So, he can stand up before people in the community–who haven’t seen much of a difference–and argue that, though the program works (see his 5,000 people), for it to really work, he’s going to need more funding or more time.

If it’s a success, we must continue it, because it works.  If it’s a failure, we must continue it, because it’s just not working yet.

Of course, it’s never going to really work.  Most Hispanic people who are here in Nashville, who open the restaurants that you hypocrites want to eat it, who build the houses that you hypocrites want to live in, who clean the offices you want to work in, are here legally.  (In a sane world, “we’ll take you’re stuff, but you’re going to have to leave” would be recognized for the theft it is.)  And it doesn’t matter how egregious Hall’s 287(g) program is, how unjust it is, how cruel it is, it only deals with people who are here illegally.

Your vision of a city with no brown people in it, with no Spanish on the street signs or the radio or in your grocery store?

We’re never going back to that.  It’s not coming back.  It is over and gone and I say good riddance and you say it’s too bad and it doesn’t matter because those days are behind us.

It doesn’t matter how many villages of people Hall sacrifices to your hatred, Nashville is never going to be an Old South–White and Black only–city again, if it ever was.  The old ways are over.

Juana Villegas DeLaPaz is going to be deported.

And isn’t that convenient?  Hall’s people can shackle you to a bed while you’re in labor.  They can treat you so poorly it makes the nurses who are trying to help you deliver cry and plead for you.  They can take your baby from you when it’s just a day old, when he most needs the milk you can provide him, and all for a traffic stop.

And then–and really, this is the cherry on the sundae–the Sheriff can do you that wrong and then he can put you into the system, and have you sent away, so that he never has to face you again.  He doesn’t have to look in the face of the injustice he’s perpetrated because the person he did it to is gone.

Doesn’t that work well for him?  Ain’t that just great?

The people most likely to be affected by his racist program, who can speak most clearly to its effects on the lives of our neighbors, can all either be disappeared or someone they care about can be disappeared. In an environment like that, who would step forward to speak about the problems?

Thank the gods Villegas came forward and spoke honestly about what happened to her, because her bravery means that no women in labor in Sheriff Hall’s custody are shackled any more.  Most people in Nashville didn’t know that was standard treatment for pregnant women in custody and, thanks to her being willing to speak out, that barbaric practice was stopped.

Hall should be ashamed that it was happening at all.  Just like he should be ashamed to discover that the most vocal supporters of his 287(g) program are vile old-school racists.

But part of being ashamed means that you have to face the people you have wronged.  Hall never has to do that, because the people he’s wronged go away.  The people who could be the most vocal critics of the program, who could tell us if real criminals are being rounded up or if it’s just a way to harrass and terrorize the most vulnerable members of our community, literally can’t speak out once they have the knowledge, because they’ve been forced out of town.  Just like Villegas is about to be forced out of town.

Hall’s program is perfectly legal.  And the people who are here illegally are indeed here illegally.  But it still doesn’t make the program right.  And frankly, I find it disturbing that any one person in Davidson County has the power to disappear 5,000 people in two years.

And I really wish you did, too.

22 thoughts on “Legal Doesn’t Make It Right

  1. Five thousand people deported? That’s 1% of the population of Davidson County, right? That’s, um, pretty awful.

  2. Nashville people have figured out that the substantial drop in population on the 2010 census is going to result in getting less fed funds, right? Or am I missing something here?

  3. Bridgett, I’m sad to report that, if living here has taught me anything, it’s that we will choose punitiveness even if it goes against our own best interest. Even if we lose money, even if innocent people are hurt, as long as the few bad guys get punished in some form, that’s good enough for us.

  4. Or people that we think might become bad, at some future point…or people that just can’t be trusted to be good as a category of actors…or people who aren’t like “us” by some metric of identity…

  5. Legal Doesn’t Make It Right

    Although we don’t fully agree on illegal immigration, you make an excellent moral point. In fact, my sister once got my ex-wife to not take me to court over something (I forget what) by using that exact logic. She worded it as, “It may be your right, but it’s not the right thing to do.”

    nm’s thought Around here, “not like ‘us’” is assumed to be the equivalent of “bad” unless proven otherwise. is a gross overgeneralization used to obscure the real issues behind illegal immigration. I believe a country has a commitment to its citizens to control the immigration rate and ensure that immigrants meet certain standards. One of which is legal entry into their country.

    But, it is so much easier to paint those who disagree with you, nm, as racist devils or what have you than to really think and consider another’s point of view.

    Frankly, I don’t think local law enforcement should be worrying too much about legal immigrants. That’s the Feds’ job, which they’ve done poorly. If an illegal is arrested for a crime or traffic violation, then fine. But otherwise, the locals probably have more pressing matters like checking the red light cameras. :-)

  6. “The people who could be the most vocal critics of the program, who could tell us if real criminals are being rounded up or if it’s just a way to harrass and terrorize the most vulnerable members of our community”

    If real criminals are being rounded up??? Hello these are ILLEGAL aliens. By definition they are criminals. And don’t give me crap about being racist. I am married to a first generation American from India. Her parents immigrated here legally. They have helped alot of their extended family come here legally as well. Criminals should be removed from the streets. If they are here illegally, they should be transported back to their country of origin and let their government handle it.

    And yes I bet there is a significant effect in Nashville by having these 5000 people removed. Perhaps it is simply 5000 less people that would be collecting unemployement benifits as their jobs were lost in this reccession. And I say the government should be doing more to punish employers that hire illegal immigrants. If there were no jobs available for them then they would be less likely to try to come here illegally. Unfortunately, both political parties view them as a boon (Reps for cheap labor, Dems for easy votes) and are really just abusing these people anyway.

  7. DADvocate, what on earth are you talking about? When I refer to being “not like ‘us'” I am responding to Bridgett’s “people who aren’t like ‘us’ by some metric of identity” which contains a lot of categories in addition to “being an immigrant” or “being white.”

  8. Jim, if you’re going to comment here, you’ve going to at least have to bring your “B” game. I mean, at least, try a little bit. Look, DADvocate is an angry conservative zealot and he’s making actual points based in reality that anyone on either side of the debate is going to have to wrestle with if they want to come to a solution. That’s why his contributions are welcome here, even if and when he does make me mad.

    You are pulling things out of your ass that don’t even make sense. Illegal immigrants can’t vote. So, how are they easy votes for Democrats?

    They are only by definition criminals because the definition has changed. What used to be the moral and criminal equivalent of jaywalking or trespassing through someone’s field to get to where you’re going has been turned into some ongoing state of criminality in order to justify treating people who are our neighbors like shit.

    If criminals like that should be removed from the street, I trust we can all rest assured that you don’t speed?

  9. Oh, Jim isn’t making any sense. I mean, if illegal immigrants are being paid in cash, they can’t collect unemployment, and if they’re not being paid in cash they need to use a fake SSN, in which case the benefits accrue to the person whose SSN they are using. In either case, they aren’t covered by FICA and so can’t collect unemployment. But don’t let facts stand in the way of a rant, by all means.

  10. “They are only by definition criminals…”

    Aunt B, I agree with your sentiment in that paragraph 100%, except there are a couple of details I could quibble with…

    (a) You say that they are criminals, but it’s worth pointing out that illegal immigration and crime are not synonyms. If unvisaed immigrants commit crimes separately, that’s a different matter, but I ask you to remember that the federal government can and does classify millions as illegal immigrants under civil and not criminal law. Rudy Giuliani explains the idea to a conservative talk show host here; restrictionist leader Dan Stein admits here that deportations do not always follow criminal proceedings (“There’s a traditional division between criminal and civil proceedings. The immigration bar and their advocates want every deportation proceeding to be treated like a criminal trial. That’s not the case”) (irony of ironies – it’s Stein’s crowd that loudly shouts, “They’re all criminals!” in these discussions); and my post here gives a real-life example from the Pilgrims Pride raid in Chattanooga, in which 100 people were detained on civil administrative grounds, but none of them was charged with a single crime.

    (b) “What used to be the moral and criminal equivalent of jaywalking or trespassing…” Remember that undocumented immigration to the U.S. was the standard and legal method of immigration from the time of George Washington to Abraham Lincoln. So we didn’t take something that was always the moral and criminal equivalent of jaywalking or trespassing and make it into what it is today; we started with something that wasn’t even wrong at all at the time – and we have gradually made it into what is often a civil violation (not even a crime!) for which there is no equivalent of the civil law concepts of a statute of limitations or bankruptcy, and no equivalent of the criminal law concepts of a plea bargain, probation, or time off for good behavior, and to which we can respond with the kind of life-changing and liberty-devouring punishment normally reserved for the gravest of offenders.

  11. They are only by definition criminals because the definition has changed.

    Kinda like how it used to be legal to hit your wife?

    What is, and is not, legal changes over time. Yours is a meaningless point.

    By definition, 287g only checks people who have been arrested. Now you could hyperbolize the arrest of DeLaPaz and say that it’s “happening all over” to innocent law-abiding, racially profiled hyspanics, but your argument is hamstrung by this statement:

    He doesn’t have to look in the face of the injustice he’s perpetrated because the person he did it to is gone.

    If legal citizens are, en mass, being subjected this abuse, then there would be a large number of people still here, raising hell.

    But that doesn’t seem to be the case.


  12. More here from the Chattanooga Times-Free Press about that Pilgrims Pride raid:

    Arrested individuals can be charged for criminal or administrative violations, Mrs. Zamarripa said.

    Criminal cases usually involve people who have been deported before or who were using false, bought or borrowed documents, she said. Administrative cases may involve people who entered the country illegally and don’t have a criminal record, she said.

    Men arrested on administrative immigration violations will be transported to the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin Ga., and women to the Davidson County Jail near Nashville, officials said.

    Under the law, those charged with criminal violations must appear in federal court.

  13. I agree with Exador to an extent (hell is freezing over), but I’d say that we lack historic awareness about the evolution of our laws and that as those laws tend to get more restrictive, citizens are not well-equipped to assess whether the time for increased restriction has passed. The pendulum never seems to swing as far back during reform periods, so over time, we get stuck with these legal accretions that fall short of reexamining the underpinning ideological rationale and whether that’s still sound. That’s a much harder thing to do, especially since a component of our interpretive framework, common law, is deeply historical and resists innovation or departures, even if those departures are well-conceived.

    I would also say that Hispanics (both the legally immigrated and those whose families have lived in the American west before the US even claimed the region) are being legally harassed and are protesting all over the country, as a quick Google search of “Hispanic racial profiling protest march” will demonstrate. But as you know, you cute libertarian you, police power has a corner on the market of legal coercive force, so there’s a limit to how much effect marching and chanting has in and of itself — if you know that the police will be taking your photo and you are already in a profiled class, you might think hard about even joining a rally. It’s also not cutting much ice because those not immediately affected by the injustice have been so successful at tuning them out that we can speak as if there is no outcry and so therefore, there must be no problem.

  14. I also agree with Exador when he says, “What is, and is not, legal changes over time.” But instead of refuting Aunt B, Exador is actually proving her point, which is that the law cannot tell us what is right. The law just tells us what is legal at any given time. The wife-beating example illustrates that perfectly.

    Many people make their arguments against illegal immigration in ignorance of this fact that the law is not a perfect moral compass. Isn’t that why the word “illegal” in all-caps is so popular – to begin and end with the law as a moral barometer of people?

  15. I know that, a few years ago, the Nashville police were sending officers to neighborhood meetings (in non-Hispanic neighborhoods) to brag in a nudgy-winky sort of way about how they singled out Hispanics for selective enforcement of nuisance and/or traffic laws, in hopes of finding outstanding warrants or other reasons to hold them. Because, you know, there was the underlying assumption that these folks were criminals until proven otherwise. And I imagine that a large number of the individuals they so harrassed were citizens.

  16. nm – “not like ‘us’” is assumed to be the equivalent of “bad”

    Still sounds like a gross overgeneralization to me. You’re saying that “around here” (Nashville I assume) people are so bigoted that anyone not like them is “bad.” I think that is unfair. And, there has been plenty of accusations of racism surrounding the illegal immigration issue.

    angry conservative zealot

    I’m neither angry nor conservative in the sense you probably mean it. I’ve voted LIbertarian for president more than any other party. Voted for McGovern, Carter and Dukakis. In my comments at NashvillePost, I’ve supported gay marriage among other things.

    But there are a few issues that tick me off and the constant charges of racism by many liberals are one. Plus, I simply believe limited government is a positive. for individual freedom. (Gay marriage is a freedom issue for me.)

    But, once again, assigning the “appropriate” derogatory label on someone means you can dismiss anything they say. It has some of the same dehumazing effect of calling north Vietnamese “gooks” during the Vietnam War. Although, I did see you qualified your name calling a little.

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