Civil Forfeiture And CBP: Two Peas In The Same Authoritarian Pod

Lost last week in the furor over Il Trumpe’s ‘suggestion’ to a sheriff that he would be happy to destroy a state senator who opposed civil forfeiture is that civil forfeiture is a really bad idea. In theory, it sounds good: police are able to confiscate ill-begotten gains (property and money) and use the funds to strengthen law enforcement efforts. The legal principle is that the property itself is arrested, meaning that, unlike people and corporations (*cough*) it has few rights and legal protections.

The reality, though, is that civil forfeiture is abusive. It’s very hard for innocent people to get their property back–if police seized and sold your car, how would you cope? It also has led to in some cases, corruption–it’s essentially highway robbery. In the extreme, the police steal the forfeited goods, but there is also the incentive to seize property to fund the department (and thus the police’s salaries, including overtime benefits).

But in the age of Il Trumpe, there’s something else that should concern us about civil forfeiture: it’s a great way to harass–and impoverish–political dissidents. Again, how many people could afford to lose their car–or their house?

We’ll get back to this, but we’re also seeing a rise in detention by Customs and Border Patrol (‘CBP’). One recent case was the detention by U.S. Customs of U.S Olympian and native-born citizen Ibtihaj Muhammad. That’s before you get to the recent raids, where legal residents are also being detained. The problem here is that most people most of the time don’t carry proof of legal residence with them–in fact, as best as I can tell, only half of U.S. citizens have a passport* and we all know birth certificates can falsified by KENYOMARXISTMUSLIMANIANS AMIRITE? Seriously, no one carries their birth certificate around with them. So most people, if stopped, would have no immediate way to prove their residency (and, no drivers’ licenses in most states wouldn’t cut it), so they could be detained. This is an excellent way to harass people as well.

To date, the reason most people haven’t really worried about these problems is the same reason we didn’t worry about the consequences of the War on (Some People Who Use Certain) Drugs (or education reform, for that matter). They typically don’t affect upper-middle class and gentry class people. Also usually not white. In the case of the War on (Some People Who Use Certain) Drugs, we became much more sympathetic to drug users once ‘they’ began to be ‘normal’ people, which is to say us (to be clear, we should have been sympathetic to those of us with addiction problems all along).

If these policies begin to target ‘normals’, we might see limitations on these policies, assuming we still have a somewhat functioning democracy.

Again, it’s worth noting that Democratic officials shouldn’t have been so eager to support security agencies–which aren’t exactly bastions of civil liberties these days (do you think the bigots are going to work for the National Endowment of the Arts?).

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