Monday, November 15, 2004

So what's on the Foxnews website?

Judicial activism!

Here's the lead-in:

John Morganelli, District Attorney for Northampton County, Pa., probably had no idea what he was in for last week when his office appeared before Judge Leonard Zito for the conviction and sentencing of 27 individuals accused of using false and stolen social security numbers.

Morganelli’s investigators had worked for months to prosecute the group, 14 of which had not simply used false social security numbers, but had stolen and used the social security numbers of law-abiding people.

But although every one of the defendants pleaded guilty, Judge Zito refused to impose any period of incarceration, nor did he fine the defendants. Zito based his decision on the fact that the defendants were all illegal aliens, remarking that they should never have been arrested in the first place because the men committed the crimes “strictly for the purpose of working.”

Sounds pretty bad, that identity theft stuff has defrauded people of thousands of dollars and ruined their credit ratings. The only problem is that's not what these illegal immigrants did - they "stole" those SS numbers because they had to provide numbers in order to work, and instead of taking money, they paid Social Security taxes to other people's accounts. It's as if someone hacked your bank's computer and started depositing money into your checking account, without any method for making withdrawals. That's the best I can tell what happened, from carefully reading this and other accounts. It's the impression from Fox - illegals conduct damaging identity theft, judge lets them off scott-free - that's important and deceptive.

Many people won't be surprised at Fox's approach, but this is a special post for my conservative brother-in-law to keep in mind as he reads or listens to Fox.

P.S. Two additional points - first, it's not clear to me that these uneducated laborers knew they had real SS numbers, as opposed to simply being told they had to put down something, and that the numbers given to them were ones that wouldn't get them in trouble. Second, I think this could have caused income tax problems for the real SS number holders, if the laborers didn't pay full income taxes. Nothing I saw that reported on this case mentioned that as having happened. This still wouldn't be anything like the damage that people think of when they consider identity theft.

Update, 11/18/04: Reaction from the brother-in-law is in:

What a can o' worms. Where to begin…?

Let's be fair. This is not a news story. It is an opinion piece, and as the sage once told us, like a common orifice, we've all got one. Just so happens, this is one with which we disagree.

I use “we” in the correct sense here; I agree that Matt Hayes’ opinion is wrong. However, he comes by his error honestly. He is not a journalist, consequently he misidentifies the story (no insult to present company; I am also not a journalist, but I played one on student papers both in high school and college attempt #1).

The story is that Morganelli's office is in desperate need of a paradigm shift. Why not bring in the criminal employers who hired illegals? The only reason these workers needed fraudulent SSN’s would be because the employers were filling out I-9’s and W-2’s fraudulently. Did the employers say, “Just make something up, we have to put something here,” or even fill out the form for the workers? Or did the fellows who brought them across the border for a price coach them, or give them stolen SSN’s? It sounds like the investigators from the DA’s office spent months on a fairly misdirected and uninspired investigation. So Zito isn’t the only one choosing not to “administer the law”.

That doesn’t mean that I agree with Zito’s decision. I was once told that “ignorance is no defense before the law.” And since when is committing a crime OK just so long as it’s “strictly for the purpose of working”? If the workers gave false or stolen SSN’s, they should be punished. But did they? The article assumes a great deal. But if the investigation showed they gave the employers false or stolen SSN’s, they should face the law. I know the penalty I would have meted out. An escorted, coach-class trip back to their point of origin. It may be that a portion of our economy is based on illegal workers. If it is, it is out-of-whack. The sooner we eliminate the illegal issue the better. That only happens over a long period of improving conditions in foreign nations, where illegal workers would frankly prefer to stay. They love their home countries; they just can’t make a go of things there due to the economic/social/political climate. And in the mean time, we need to actually enforce the law around border control issues. And I much prefer going after the employers and traffickers of willing slaves (which is what illegal workers are, let’s face facts). Those are the groups with the most power in the situation, the situation’s taproot.

Fair reaction, I think. And he agrees Fox News published an opinion piece that is wrong (yeah - progress!). I agree that illegal immigration is a problem, but our economy is dependent on that labor - the relationship is not simply of the US providing beneficial opportunities to illegals. Bushies and the Republican Congress have done nothing to address this problem (just like previous administrations).

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