Wednesday, June 05, 2002

CLUELESS CONYERS: Referring to the Justice Department's proposed regulation "requiring a new 'special registration' of thousands of people visiting the United States from Syria, Iran, Iraq, Libya and Sudan," Rep. Conyers spluttered:
"It is shocking that the [most free] nation on earth could engage in a system of racial and ethnic profiling," he said. "It is as though the equal protection clause had no meaning or context whatsoever to the authors of this Orwellian proposal." [Washington Post]
First, note the gratuitous use "Orwellian" to describe an immigration restriction on foreigners from hostile states that lets them into the country, just on the condition that they get fingerprinted and photographed, give contacts in the U.S. and in their own countries, and periodically report in to the INS. So passports and visas were just first steps on the path to 1984? Who knew? Second, and much more amusing, note that Rep. Conyers, ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee -- which means he supposedly knows something about our legal system -- is unaware that the equal protection clause has little if any bearing on which countries and under what conditions we grant the privilege of immigration to our country. I'm not advocating arbitrarily discriminatory immigration restrictions (although we arguably have such restrictions already), just that the constitution generally doesn't forbid substantively (as opposed to procedurally) discriminatory immigration rules. And it certainly doesn't forbid restricting immigration from hostile states in a time of war. Indeed, the federal government controls immigration not because the constitution specifically grants it that power, but because the Supreme Court found that power implied by the federal government's express powers to regulate foreign commerce, conduct foreign affairs, and make war. (One of the first things a country does in a war is restrict enemy nationals' access to its territory.) One legitimate criticism of the proposed regulation is that it doesn't discriminate against enough hostile states, because it exempts countries like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Yemen (although individual immigrants may be subjected to the restrictions on a case-by-case basis). I hate to say it -- I hate to see it -- but Conyers proves, yet again, that many politicians on the left simply will not engage in rationale debate about appropriate security measures in time of war. UPDATE: Volokh has a detailed discussion of the legal issues of discrimination in the immigration context.

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