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FMCSR Week 2: Philosophical Authority

Imagine these scenarios… One Monday morning you walk into your local train station for your daily commute to Chicago and there is an immigration checkpoint set up by the city police department.  Your failure to carry your birth certificate and passport for the ride nets you a local ordinance ticket for a violation of immigration laws.  Or how about this – it’s April 16th and a local police officer stops you for speeding.  The officer asks whether or not you have paid your federal income taxes which were due the day before.  The police officer asks for consent to search your car, finds your late IRS paperwork, and writes you a notice to appear ticket for theft.  These abuses of authority are unconscionable, yet it happens every day in Illinois with commercial motor vehicles.

The goal of this post is not to wax philosophic or leverage a political opinion on immigration and tax laws, but to illustrate that a mere violation of a federal law does not justify unauthorized enforcement.  Police officers in Illinois routinely encounter people they suspect are illegal immigrants, but do not arrest them based solely on that suspicion because they have no such authority.  If the local police encounter an individual whom the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) has issued a detainer for, an arrest may occur…because the officer now has authority. Many times the local police will make and arrest for independent crimes and suspect the individual is an illegal immigrant.  In these situations, the local police continue the investigation for the crimes against the State and the immigration authority is deferred to INS.

This is common practice for local police in Illinois.  In a quick survey of some ITEA member police officers, not one had delusions that immigration law was under their purview.  Why then do local police officers believe they somehow have the authority to enforce violations of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations?

The fact is commercial motor vehicle enforcement is not the political hot potato that immigration is.  Traffic tickets for equipment violations do not spark the civil liability fire among police officers like taking unlawful custody of a suspected illegal immigrant.    The majority of the motoring public appreciates and supports enforcement that removes unsafe trucks from the road, but sweeping immigration enforcement is a divided issue.  Does the end result of safer roads justify the means of overreaching police methodology?

When it comes to trucks, there seems to be a belief that just because there is a violation of some code that somehow there must be a way for local police officers to enforce it.  It is a good thing police officers are justice oriented people.  The vast majority of police take enforcement action for the right reasons.  The conviction to protect and maintain order is essential to succeed as a police officer, but a mature police officer realizes the limitations of his authority.

The FBI handles bank robberies.  The Secret Service takes care of counterfeit money.  INS manages illegal immigration.  The DEA works interstate drug rings.  The IRS tracks down delinquent tax scoffers.  The ATF investigates the illegal gun trade across state line.  The Illinois State Police represent the federal government in Illinois when it comes to motor carrier safety.   It is their sole authority.  Next week we will dig into the statutes that prove and provide this authority.

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