Good Intentions and the Road to Perdition

By W.D. Reasoner on July 11, 2012

The California legislature is inching toward an "anti-Arizona" measure that would permit law enforcement agencies to ignore detainers filed by federal immigration authorities and prohibit police from questioning individuals pulled over during traffic stops, for instance, about their immigration status.

Two slightly different bills have passed each house of the legislative branch; they will have to be reconciled before a final vote. But no matter how you slice it, the bills are misguided and will do nothing but impede public safety, and quite possibly national security.

First, we should remember that various public venues in California — Los Angeles International Airport, for instance — have in the past been targets of intended terrorists, although by the grace of God those plans have amounted to nothing so far.

Second, we should recognize that state and local police will almost inevitably be the first responders in any major catastrophic event, whether natural or instigated by man.

Third, we should recollect that sometimes only a thin thread of events has resulted in a plot disrupted in the nick of time (think of the narrowly averted Times Square bombing), or a perpetrator captured (think of Timothy McVeigh).

What has this to do with the California bill? Why, everything.

Imagine that a car driven by a Mohammad Atta (one of the 9/11 ringleaders) wannabe, with several of his cohorts inside, is pulled over for a motor vehicle infraction. The police officer may have reason to believe that they are illegally in the United States (but not necessarily terrorists). However, law or policy or perhaps even indifference keeps him from inquiring about their status. He writes a ticket, lets them go, and days later they go on to commit a horrific terrorist crime.

The thing is, had the officer been free to pursue his inquiry as to their immigration status (and presuming that federal officers responded — not at all a sure thing with this administration), he might never even know he had disrupted an incipient act of terror. But if he isn't free to inquire and act according to circumstances, the only way we will ever know about such crimes is with the shocking clarity of hindsight.

Is this scenario far-fetched? Not so much. At least three of the 9/11 hijackers were stopped for driving infractions by local police in the days leading up to their terrorist attacks. All were ticketed and released.

Let's hope that Gov. Brown thinks more deeply about the consequences of this ill-conceived legislation than California's lawmakers have, and vetoes it promptly should it ever reach his desk.