David Rothkopf

Law and Order: unconstitutional harassment unit

So let me see if I understand this — in Arizona police are going to be asked to identify people who they suspect of being illegal aliens and once they do they will be given powers to detain and interrogate them. This clearly will require police work at a level unimaginable even to America’s greatest ...


So let me see if I understand this — in Arizona police are going to be asked to identify people who they suspect of being illegal aliens and once they do they will be given powers to detain and interrogate them.

This clearly will require police work at a level unimaginable even to America’s greatest law enforcement brains.  People like our country’s greatest legal mind, Dick Wolf. (Balzac once said "Behind every great fortune lies a great crime." Wolf has taken this to an extreme, because behind his lie thousands of great crimes — and that’s not including the acting of most of the spokes models he has hired to play assistant district attorneys over the years.)

Or maybe not. Maybe the Arizona law already has the wily billionaire television producer’s brain percolating. I can see it now. "Law and Order: Unconstitutional Harassment Unit" has all the makings of the multi-ethnic ratings Viagra that the 20 year old franchise needs.

Every week, viewers will get to view the antics of a team of Arizona law enforcement officials led by Sheriff Joe "Pink Underpants" Arpaio, the Maricopa County legal innovator who has made headlines for par-boiling inmates in tent cities, generating over $40 million in settlements for prisoner abuse and his whimsical interpretation of the U.S. Constitution. No doubt each episode will begin with a couple having a perfectly lovely after-dinner stroll in Scottsdale when they suddenly come upon a man sitting menacingly in his car in Home Depot parking lot. A man with a moustache! A moustache and a swarthy complexion! Listening to a Paulina Rubio CD! Perhaps the car has not parked within the lines of the parking space, perhaps his meter has expired … bingo: under the revised, new and improved new and improved Arizona immigration law, time for the men and women of Law and Order: UHU! (Jail door slamming theme music inserted here.)

Cut to Sheriff Joe and his whacky sidekicks ransacking the house of the dangerous potential illegal.Admittedly, he lives in a McMansion in the hills above Scottsdale and he looks identical to Sheriff Joe’s Italian grandpa, but there is incriminating evidence. The television had been left on to CNN Espanol! And the cupboards contained several cans of Goya garbanzo beans! Off to the slammer with you, Jose. (Admittedly, according to Tom Friedman’s Sunday column, the name is no give away now that among the most popular names in Mexico these days are: "Elizabeth, Evelyn, Abigail, Karen, Marilyn and Jacqueline and for boys Alexander, Jonathan, Kevin, Christian and Brian." But canny old Dick Wolf will see this as an opportunity for great twists. A couple sip champagne in a Phoenix wine bar, pay for their Veuve Cliquot with a credit card and then, ack! Her name is Evelyn! Arrest her!)

After the arrest, the show focuses on the prosecution led by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer and her team of crack racial profilers. Since most of the cases will be resolved with the simple determination of whether or not the individual in question has documentation, shows will focus on the other legal battles Brewer and company will be engaged in — including law suits centering on the abridgement of the equal protection clause of the U.S. constitution, those focusing on illegal imprisonment and abuse of power, and of course, those from disgruntled Arizona businesspeople who will suffer as their state becomes permanently and indelibly associated with racism.

It has hit written all over it. (And think of the syndication rights throughout the hemisphere.) S. Epatha Merkerson might even re-think her departure from the "mother ship" of the series if she could get involved with this. And think of the cross-over opportunities for suspicious looking series regulars like Alana de la Garza’s Connie Rubirosa, Jeremy Sisto’s Cyrus Lupo, Dennis Farina’s Joe Fontana, Annie Parisse’s Alexandra Borgia, and of course, Benjamin Bratt’s Rey Curtis all of whom could be harassed by Sheriff Joe, Governor Jan and who knows, maybe even their someday Senator J.D. Hayworth (a man who, if elected, should prove a deterrent to potential illegal immigrants who simply would not want to be associated with a country who could elect a bulb so dim or a spirit so mean.)

On "This Week", George Will’s hair attempted to defend the new Arizona legislation suggesting it was only mandating enforcement of existing laws. This sounds reasonable enough except that it overlooks the fact that the law turns on suspicion of being illegal … which raises the question: what makes someone look "illegal." Governor Brewer has since ordered that race alone can’t do it. So then what?  Speaking Spanish? Being poor? Showing an over-enthusiasm for soccer? Actually liking Norteno music? (Which personally, I think is reason to lock someone up but I’m not the governor of Arizona so I can’t enforce my own personal prejudices as she does.) Beyond that, of course, the point Will and the others defending the legislation miss is that the law is at its heart vile-spirited.

That said there is only one solution: Washington needs to move forward on real immigration reform now. This is one issue where bi-partisanship ought to be possible because it is one of the few areas in which the policies of former President George W. Bush were thoughtful and should have been embraced.  Obama should sit down with Bush when he announces proposed legislation…and he shouldn’t wait.   We need to create a path to amnesty to the millions who are here adding important value to the American economy and we need to work with our NAFTA partners to create more effective border controls. The president’s attempt to punt the legislation out of this year was weak (see Dana Milbank’s excellent piece on his "Fatal Flinch"), ill-considered and needs to be reversed. America faces an immigration crisis that requires action now or it will undoubtedly produce even more poisonous results in the near future. 

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