Former Supreme Court reporter Linda Greenhouse's bimonthly online column, "Across the Border, Over the Line," dealt with what the teaser at nytimes.com called "the country's harsh feelings toward immigrants, even legal ones."
Greenhouse approached two recent Supreme Court immigration case from a predictable liberal angle (her treatment of liberal Supreme Court justices was noticeably warmer than her profiles of conservatives, and she pretty much outed herself as a leftist in a 2006 Harvard commencement speech given while she was still a reporter for the Times).
Greenhouse set up the evidently sad case of one Jose Padilla, born in Honduras, who had "lived legally in the United States for 40 years and served honorably in the military during the war in Vietnam." (This is not the enemy combatant Padilla.)
Before anyone objects that such individuals have no right to be in the country in the first place, I should make clear that today's harshly anti-immigrant legal regime applies not only to the undocumented, but to permanent legal residents as well. Jose Padilla, the Honduran-born petitioner in the recent case, has.
Greenhouse admitted that "this Padilla is no saint either; he was caught in Kentucky at the wheel of a tractor-trailer loaded with 1,000 pounds of marijuana."
But Padilla got bad advice from his lawyer about what a guilty plea would mean for his immigration status - he was falsely told he would not be deported.
So yes, this case engendered a debate over the proper interpretation of the Sixth Amendment, and that is explanation enough for its route to the Supreme Court. Perhaps, as a matter of constitutional doctrine, it wasn't such an easy case after all. But I'm looking for a deeper answer. That it took the Supreme Court in 2010 to tell us that non-citizens are entitled to be made aware of the full dimensions of their legal peril should be understood, I think, as a kind of wake-up call. In this nation of immigrants and their descendants, we have become so obsessed with rooting out, locking up and packing off those whom we decide should not be permitted to remain among us that we are in danger of losing a moral center of gravity.
That would be the same Congress that spent months tied up in knots over how conclusively to prohibit insurance coverage for abortion under the new health care legislation, ostensibly out of concern for the unborn. Maybe someday, members of Congress will display the same concern for those who happened to have been born, but on the wrong side of the border. Maybe, just maybe, the Supreme Court will show the way.
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