The debate rages. Should people who are in this country illegally be granted constitutional rights?
On first blush, the answer is obvious. They are innocent until shown, by the process, to be guilty. And innocent people have rights in this nation.
But the question burns much deeper. It entails a resentment against the influx of undocumented workers and other trespassers streaming in from the southern border. It involves anxiety about terrorists infiltrating the country. And it involves the age-old American desire to take action — any action — when it comes to dealing with a problem.
For now, the courts are being coy, but they have given signals that, yes, even those here without permission deserve the protections of the Constitution. In a recent case, a three-judge panel said that an incident involving an illegal immigrant did not violate his Fourth Amendment rights, giving the defense an opening to say that the immigrant must have had rights for the court to say they were not violated.
We agree. The standards for law enforcement should be equal for all.
The Warsaw Ghetto was cleansed of Jews before World War II because "legitimate citizens" wanted to see something done about the "Jewish problem." That may sound hyperbolic to some, but the principle at work is the same. Angry citizens cannot deny human rights to people who they feel have not earned them. But the concern is not the humanity of the intruders, it is the humanity of the way America, as a nation, treats others.
Chances are, denying constitutional rights to interlopers will not lead to late-night raids on families and the wholesale abuse of fellow human beings; but it would unlatch that very door. And any door to ugly behavior should be kept tightly closed.
Nobody enjoys seeing lawbreakers "coddled," but treating others with a degree of civility and restraint is also the mark of an enlightened people. The country cannot afford to pick and choose which residents it will and will not respect. The internment camps in Utah's west desert during World War II should serve as a reminder of what happens when a group of people are considered "unworthy" of Constitutional protection.
If there are to be errors, let them be errors of civility and caution, not errors that lead to fear, confusion and distrust.
We are a nation of laws, even for the lawless.