We have seen it in the secretive "no-fly list," a system in which people deemed suspicious and barred from commercial flights are not told they are on the list, or why, and thus must guess at what evidence to refute when they appeal to be removed. We have seen it in the amassing of more than 1 million people's names in the "terrorist screening database," many included simply because they know someone who is already listed. We have seen it in the months-long detentions of suspected illegal migrants without the opportunity for a bail hearing. We have seen it in the
And we have seen it in President
In all of these examples, the federal government has emphasized expediency and its own preferences above individual rights, particularly the right to due process and to seek redress from the courts as established under the 5th Amendment, and, in cases such as unaccompanied minors detained at the border, through statute. Critics frustrated with unilateral actions by the
In some ways, Obama is echoing history. The federal government has often found due process and other constitutional protections to be cumbersome during times of real or perceived threat, from the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 to Abraham Lincoln's Civil War suspension of habeas corpus to the summary deportations of foreign-born suspected radicals during the 1920s "Red scare." The internment without criminal charges of Japanese Americans during World War II remains an ugly stain. The Cold War brought the prosecution of communists over their political philosophies, and during the
The government has a right and a duty to be selective about who is allowed to join American society as a legal resident and as a naturalized citizen. Immigration laws should be enforced even if they are archaic and dysfunctional. The president has a responsibility to safeguard the nation against acts of terror from abroad and from within. But the government is not free to take shortcuts in the conduct of its business, especially when its actions compromise core values of the nation. It is absurd to violate constitutional principles in the name of enforcing laws.
The Obama administration should ponder its oversteps and missteps on that front, and recommit to actions that are consistent under the law and with our fundamental legal principles.