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Citizens United Vs. Skepticism

I had a conversation with my boss and another cow orker about illegal immigration the other day, in the course of which the boss told me two things I didn’t know: that illegal immigrants were now legally entitled to and collecting  full Social Security benefits, and that it was impossible for state or local police to arrest illegal immigrants caught red-handed with drugs and illegal firearms because the local police had no other options other than turn them over to ICE (who wouldn’t take them and thus they were released scot free).

This was flabbergasting news to me, but he insisted along with my cow orker that they knew these things for absolute facts, that the former was the case nationally and the latter had happened in not one but two South Carolinian cities in the local area recently, and invited me to do my own research on the matter and get myself educated on the laws related to these important issues.

Challenge accepted, of course. 

This was at the end of their shift but the beginning of mine. I had to wait a couple of hours before I had time for my first break. I figured I’d start with the Social Security claim, since as a national issue the chances were Snopes or UrbanLegend had already done my work for me. Twenty minutes later I’d sent this email:

If illegal immigrants are receiving Social Security benefits (whether under the retiree or disability programs) they are doing it illegally and can be prosecuted for it. There are no legal Social Security benefits for anyone who is not resident in the country legally, it is an urban legend.

Sec. 1137. [42 U.S.C. 1320b–7](d) The requirements of this subsection, with respect to an income and eligibility verification system of a State, are as follows

(1)(A) The State shall require, as a condition of an individual’s eligibility for benefits under a program listed in subsection (b), a declaration in writing, under penalty of perjury—

(i) by the individual,

(ii) in the case in which eligibility for program benefits is determined on a family or household basis, by any adult member of such individual’s family or household (as applicable), or

(iii) in the case of an individual born into a family or household receiving benefits under such program, by any adult member or such family or household no later than the next redetermination of eligibility of such family or household following the birth of such individual,

stating whether the individual is a citizen or national of the United States, and, if that individual is not a citizen or national of the United States, that the individual is in a satisfactory immigration status.

The South Carolina  situation I had to dig out myself, but the sunshine laws do put the legal code online. It took half my lunch break and my second short break to put the second email together:

According to SC Code 17-13-30(C)(4) lacking legal residency status does not make a person immune to prosecution for other crimes. It is up to the officer whether to detain the person for the underlying crime, or turn the person over to immigration authorities, if the immigration authorities are willing to assume custody.

The regular police are not obligated to just let people lacking documentation go if they have committed other crimes, though they may if the only detainable crime is the illegal residency itself and the immigration authorities choose not to pursue that case. I suspect that’s the kernel of truth that grew into the fable; local police would like to be able to investigate and prosecute residency violations, but that’s a federal crime and enforcement prerogative.

State crimes committed within the state are prosecuted by state authorities though, so if those people arrested had committed felonies against South Carolina law then they could have been prosecuted under the state’s own jurisdiction. If commissioners of either of the city police forces you mentioned have instituted a policy of letting people who can’t show legal residency go then they did it for their own reasons, not because the law requires them to.

(4) If the officer determines that the person is unlawfully present in the United States, the officer shall determine in cooperation with the Illegal Immigration Enforcement Unit within the South Carolina Department of Public Safety or the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement, as applicable, whether the officer shall retain custody of the person for the underlying criminal offense for which the person was stopped, detained, investigated, or arrested, or whether the Illegal Immigration Enforcement Unit within the South Carolina Department of Public Safety or the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement, as applicable, shall assume custody of the person.

The officer is not required by this section to retain custody of the person based solely on the person’s lawful presence in the United States.

The officer may securely transport the person to a federal facility in this State or to any other point of transfer into federal custody that is outside of the officer’s jurisdiction.

The officer shall obtain judicial authorization before securely transporting a person to a point of transfer that is outside of this State.

You’re wondering what the hell this has to do with Citizens United, aren’t you? What it has to with skepticism is pretty obvious, but I’d like to extend it a bit beyond the surface.

These two men are not stupid. One of them holds down the same job I do, which is not intellectually undemanding, and the other is a level above that (and deserves to be there). They can hold their own in an intellectual argument against most people. Their positions demand, amongst other things, the ability to research facts.

So the question is, why didn’t they? My boss was so confident of his assertions that he encouraged me to research the truth of it, but it plainly never occurred to him that he should do the same.

It isn’t that he didn’t consider these claims to be unusual, he thought it was a bizarre and nigh unbelievable thing that the country had come to this, and that was partly why he was sharing them… and yet, weird as he considered these ‘facts’ to be, it never even occurred to him that they might not be true. He passed them on, in fact, with fervent declarations that he knew them to be true.

It took me less than an hour on the Internet to refute both claims, down to locating the relevant statutes (important, otherwise it would just be my source I trusted against his source he trusted). I even had time to wolf a cheeseburger and fries.

The deeply stupid Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case, which SCOTUS’s conservative majority doubled down on this week (by curtailing the State’s rights of Montana, ironically enough), has been widely described as allowing corporations to simply buy elections.

That isn’t exactly true. Your vote can’t be bought; you’re not even allowed to sell it. (Of course, lots of things happen that aren’t allowed, but that’s a discussion for another time.) What Citizens United actually does is give monied powers, for which read large corporations and extremely wealthy individuals, a truly stentorian voice.

They can advertise without limits, basically, and currently with total lack of transparency. That sheer volume of repetition may be enough to snag the votes of people like my boss and cow orker. (Sorry, but I give myself a happy feeling every time I use that mangled phrase, and grins are in short supply these days.)

However, this is the greatest era in the history of the world so far for getting minority viewpoints spread. The 1% have been given given themselves a voice 99 times louder even than what they had before… but it’s also true that it has become almost impossible (for the moment) to keep anyone’s voice completely silent.

This is the greatest age yet for a skeptic to live in. The truth is very largely out there, and accessible to anyone with access to a computer.

The danger is that this is also the Net Of A Million Lies – and a billion distortions, and a trillion misunderstandings. These can all be sorted out and discarded, but it takes a little training and it needs a fair amount of effort, and above all it absolutely requires an iron commitment to wanting to know the actual truth, even if you might find out you were wrong, even if that knowledge forces you to rethink your position.

To be honest, I wasn’t completely sure about the Social Security thing. Sometimes a bureaucracy can with good intentions, or just plain bumbling, come up with surprising policies. (I didn’t believe “they can arrest the legals but have to let the illegals go scot free” for a hot second, even though he claimed he had it straight from a police officer of his acquaintance). But I doubted it was true, so I researched.

That, in sum, is the hope I see to fight the money monsoons that Citizens United has only begun to pour forth. All the lies in the world can be defeated by finding out the truth, all the distortions can be straightened by clear thinking and honest analysis… but all that can only happen if we remain skeptical and committed to truth, and do our best to persuade our fellow citizens to do the same.

Titles are hard. Maybe I should have entitled this “Skepticism Vs. Citizens United” to make my point clearer, but truthfully, what I truly hope for in my idealistic-but-not-naive core is that someday I will see most if not all citizens united in skepticism.

~ by BT Murtagh on June 27, 2012.

Corporations, current events, government, Internet, InterNet, Law, Politics, skepticism, United States

3 Responses to “Citizens United Vs. Skepticism”

  1. Awesome. I hear similar assertions from otherwise intelligent people at work, and it is as frustrating as all get out to try to argue their conclusions when you can’t quite get to the facts behind them during your three minute walk to the next conference room.

  2. So you sent the emails…the burning question is, how (if at all) have they responded?

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