Today’s op-ed in the Asheville Citizen-Times

Liberty and justice for all
by Cecil Bothwell
A “conversation” about my proposed civil liberties resolution has been stirred to a froth in recent weeks by noisy naysayers. To date there is no final draft of the proposal, since I am still collecting feedback from law enforcement, legal experts and the community as I fashion a more concise document, but that hasn’t stopped the critics.

While it is easy to dismiss much of the hoopla as transparently racist or jingoist, questions raised by more respectable critics warrant a response. For example, a Citizen-Times editorial published April 11 offered a broad brush dismissal of the idea by asking, “Is there any ‘there’ to much of this resolution? After all, there’s no firm federal definition of a ‘sanctuary city.’”

The question reveals an editorial writer as unfamiliar with my draft proposal as any wild-eyed rumormonger on the Web. While I endorsed the sanctuary city concept during my campaign, the words “sanctuary city” do not appear anywhere in the resolution, and the immigration issue is a tiny slice of the whole.

Further on the editorial states, “it’s hard to say what, if anything, the bulk of Bothwell’s resolution would accomplish at all. The time might be better spent fixing the things a City Council can fix.”

Given that the paper has failed to inform readers what the bulk of my resolution entails, it’s hard to say what readers might glean from such an assertion. As for time spent, no official time has been spent by Council on this matter to date, and once a final draft is prepared, debate and a vote will consume some small portion of one formal meeting. Others may be squandering an inordinate amount of time venting their spleen, but it hasn’t cost Council a New York minute.

I have advocated Council endorsement of a civil liberties resolution since passage of the USAPATRIOT Act in 2001. The Act threatened severe encroachment on rights guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution and resulted in widespread domestic spying. I am hardly alone in my concern. The illegality of some of that surveillance was affirmed in the March 31 decision of Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker which ruled that the Bush administration had engaged in illegal wiretapping of a charitable organization.

Three of the six bullet points in my draft resolution directly address such illegal spying on legal activities.

The fact that a civil liberties resolution would merely reaffirm federal law and current local practice offers no argument against endorsement. Each month Council affirms its support for one cause or a few in proclamations ranging from child abuse to “government in the sunshine” or participation in the Census. Moreover, as applied to immigration law, this proposal would have real practical effect—making the Asheville Police Department’s non-participation in what is known as “287(g)” a matter of stated policy rather than administrative choice.

A just-released report concerning 287(g) by the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General found that: the Department has failed to establish appropriate performance measures and targets to determine whether program results are aligned with program goals; failed to develop guidance for supervising ICE officers; failed to provide adequate program oversight; not fulfilled its duty to establish a thorough review and selection process for law enforcement agencies requesting to participate in the 287(g) program; failed to establish data collection and reporting requirements to address civil rights and civil liberties concerns; not provided adequate training programs; failed to provide accurate and honest program information to Congress and the public; and not standardized 287(g) officers’ access to DHS information systems. The report reinforced the findings of the Police Foundation that local enforcement of federal law undermines public safety.

There is good reason for our constitutionally mandated separation of powers, and we blur that line at our peril. Tax cheaters are far more prevalent in our country than undocumented immigrants and arguably do far more financial harm. Those demanding that local police be deputized as federal officers might do well to ask themselves if their enthusiasm extends to APD enforcement of Internal Revenue Service rules.

In a broader context affirmation of civil liberties extends well beyond a handful of recent immigrants in our community. “Driving while black” or ” … brown” or ” … gay” or “…while displaying controversial bumperstickers” do not demonstrably result in excess traffic stops under the leadership of Police Chief Bill Hogan. But there exists the perception that such preferential enforcement exists. Affirming Asheville’s support for equal treatment under the law and innocence until proven guilty is to stand for essential protections accorded all of us under Constitutional law. My proposal would simpy affirm your rights regardless of race, skin color, national or ethnic origin, sexual orientation, disability, religious or political opinion or activity, or immigration status.

Did I leave anyone out?

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