One of the reasons why so many Americans oppose amnesty and a "path to citizenship" for illegal aliens is because, even if one buys it in utilitarian terms, to accept that an honorable American identity can be born from an illegal act seems to mock the very essence of citizenship and allegiance.
Yet, putting aside the soon to be amnestied millions, it seems to me the deformation of law necessary to accommodate the armies of the undocumented is having a broader corrupting effect on the federal bureaucracy. For example, can you think of anything more risible than working for something called "US Customs & Border Protection"? There is no "border" to "protect". On the Rio Grande, President Obama, the Coyote-in-Chief, has simply erased said border.
So one sympathizes with the psychological burdens of being an employee of "Customs & Border Protection". Perhaps that explains why, as they abandon "border protection" on the southern frontier, they seem to be compensating by obstructing and terrorizing law-abiding persons on the northern frontier. The latest glimpse of America's security-where-you-need-it-least security-state comes courtesy of Iowa Boy Scout Troop 111, who were on a road trip from Iowa to Alaska.
As you might have deduced, to drive from Iowa to Alaska involves passing through Canada, so on the last leg of the journey the scouts were approaching a US immigration post on the Yukon/Alaska border. These days, the kids all have cellphones and on an exciting adventure holiday they take snaps of everything. And so, returning to America via one of its remotest frontier posts, one boy took a photograph:
[Scout leader Jim] Fox said one of the Scouts took a picture of a border official, which spurred agents to detain everyone in that van and search them and their belongings.
"The agent immediately confiscated his camera, informed him he would be arrested, fined possibly $10,000 and 10 years in prison," Fox said.
Fox said he was told it is a federal offense to take a picture of a federal agent.
Not wanting things to escalate, Fox said he did not complain.
Au contraire, by this stage, "complaining" is the only way to prevent things escalating.
For a start, if Mr Fox's account is correct, nothing that Agent Bozo threatened is actually true. "Federal agents" routinely tell people they're not allowed to take photographs, but there seems to be no - oh, what's the word? - laws that actually support this, and courts have consistently ruled that government employees have no expectation of privacy when conducting public business in public. There is a federal "regulation" governing photography on federal property for "news, advertising or commercial purposes" but that doesn't cover a boy scout in a van taking vacation souvenirs.
Is there a $10,000 fine and ten years in prison for taking a holiday snap? No. Even for taking photographs of "certain vital military and naval installations", the guilty party shall be "imprisoned not more than one year".
So this agent is either extremely ill-informed, or simply bullying a kid because he knows he can. Nevertheless, because one boy took a photo, the CBP thugs detained the scouts for four hours and went through everything.
This is the evil of a dying republic - waving through gangbangers at the southern border, but at the northern border detaining boy scouts for four hours. No novelist or movie director would attempt that contrast - it's too pat, too neat. But it's somehow become American reality in the 21st century.
Just to be clear: that boy scout did nothing wrong. When the CBP officer demanded he hand over the camera, Mr Fox should have refused and asked to see the agent's supervisor.
But it gets better:
Another of the Scouts was taking luggage from the top of a van to be searched when something startling happened.
"He hears a snap of a holster, turns around, and here's this agent, both hands on a loaded pistol, pointing at the young man's head," Fox explained.
Fox said that had them all in fear.
Ultimately no one was hurt or arrested, and after about four hours they were allowed to continue their trip into Alaska.
"No one was hurt or arrested": Two and a third centuries after a great revolution for the right to live in liberty, law-abiding Americans are apparently now grateful not to be shot or incarcerated after interactions with their government. If you're wondering what the short-trousered national-security threat did wrong, he apparently reached for his suitcase "without authorization".
Oh, my. As I always say round about this point in the story, if you need to level a gun at a boy scout's head, you're doing it wrong.
Also of note is the reaction of the folks back home:
Charles Vonderheid with the Mid-Iowa Council Boy Scouts of America said Troop 11 learned a valuable lesson. "We want to make sure they follow the rules. A Scout is a good citizen. It would be a great lesson in civics for that young man and that troop," he said.
Yeah, 'cause nothing says "civics" like having a minor bureaucratic functionary pointing a gun at your head. Mr Vonderheid has been backpedaling furiously since his original response. He's now revised his position:
He told me that he made the comment after getting blindsided by reporters before learning any details about the encounter. He assured me, though, that he and the Boy Scouts are concerned about scouts' safety and support them.
For its part, CBP is denying the boy scouts' version of events, but has passed their video of the incident (because, whether or not you're allowed to photograph CBP, CBP is allowed to photograph you) along to "internal affairs" for review. Todd Starnes of Fox News concludes:
So, what we have here is an old-fashioned case of he said, he said â€“ or to be more accurate â€“ the Boy Scouts said, the feds said.
In cases like this, the quickest way to determine who is being truthful is to look at the video. So I emailed U.S. Customs and Border Protection and officially requested a copy of the video.
My request was denied.
I'm not so sure it's fair to call it "he said, he said". None of the three other volunteers have disputed Mr Fox's version of events, and everyone seems to agree that the boy scouts were there for over four hours - and for a "crime" a CBP agent pulled out of his butt.
And that's why I describe what is alleged to have happened as "evil". There are still people like Mr Vonderheid, who think that if they're putting you through the wringer for four hours that just goes to show how seriously they take this "national security" stuff. But in fact the opposite is true. Every four hours that the incompetent Homeland Security bureaucracy is spending on Iowa boy scouts is four hours they're not spending on someone who merits the scrutiny. And considering that the most lavishly funded government on the planet has let in everyone from Mohammed Atta and Tamerlan Tsarnaev to the man who attacked and raped a 93-year old Omaha woman unto death, a serious people who were truly the "good citizens" Mr Vonderheid wants would demand that these bullying twerps learn to prioritize.
Instead, an insecure, ineffectual CBP agent stopped a troop of boy scouts for four hours for no other reason than to punish them. That's an abuse of power. And a very serious one - because a man who has no compunction about doing that has such a defective understanding of his position that one would be foolish to presume any limits to his abusiveness.
That's why, as I said above, Mr Fox should have complained, and early on. My advice, whenever a routine border crossing goes beyond the standard three or four questions and shows signs of turning into an "incident", is to ask for a supervisor. The reason is simple: You have an advantage over your interrogator; you know you're not an illegal alien, a terrorist or a smuggler. If the CBP can't tell that in under four hours, that's a reflection on them, not on you.
I confess, though, that I worry about the craven and compliant likes of Mr Vonderheid. American life is bifurcating into the undocumented and the overdocumented. On the southern border, the bazillions of US laws are meaningless - proof of identity, medical tests, none of it matters. And the less it matters on the Rio Grande the more the zealots on the 49th Parallel will take apart your car if they think you've got a Kinder egg in there. Anyone who thinks that attitude can be confined to the border and not work its way deep into the rest of American life is deluded.