Thursday, April 29, 2010

A "Miner" Problem and "May I see your papers?"

I could not decide the more pressing issue to write about so I will touch on both.  National Public Radio is reporting Massey Energy is now offering $3 million to the families of each of the miners who died in the April 5th explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine, outside of Beckley, West Virginia.

This overture by Massey Energy borders on the disgusting.  Several of these miners have only recently been buried and the timing for this move is poor, at best.  Timing issues aside, the families of the miners now find themselves in a precarious position.  Several families have considered and are in the process of filing civil suits against Massey Energy for wrongful death.

A lawsuit against Massey could bring to light many details about their safety record and the April 5th explosion that could be very damaging.  Critics speculate Massey is making these offers to save themselves, not because they care about the families of the miners.  A quick settlement with these families for several millions of dollars could ultimately be cheaper than time in court and finding themselves on the wrong end of a jury verdict, whose sympathies would most likely rest with the families of the deceased.

The families of the miners are also placed in an awkward position. Do they accept the settlement?  Go to court?  Difficult decisions at a time where focusing on the right choice is nearly impossible.  A few families have already stated they want nothing to do with the money.  According to NPR, the family of Benny Ray Willingham of Corinne, WV, was among those approached by Massey officials last week. Willingham was 61 when he died in the blast and had worked in coal mines for more than 30 years.  "We don't want the money," his daughter, Michelle McKinney, said. "We would like to have our daddy back alive."

This situation opens questions about the motives of Massey Energy.  Are these settlements commonplace for those who die in mining accidents?  Why the offer of money unless Massey Energy has reason to make this problem go away?  I will be curious to see what happens, but my money is on most families pushing a lawsuit forward.  I believe they have reached a boiling point when dealing with coal companies.

In what feels as if it is another world away, the state of Arizona is making headlines for a new state law that allows police officers to stop anyone and seek documentation showing that person is indeed in the country legally.  The officer needs only to have "reasonable suspicion" that an individual could be an illegal alien to stop them.  Though what types of documentation are requisite for proof are not made clear, the presumption can be made that a simple item such as a driver's license would be sufficient. Obviously, this creates a great deal of tension, considering Arizona borders Mexico and the southwestern state has a significant population of Hispanics.

Members of Arizona's state legislature defend the law, citing growing violence perpetrated by illegal immigrants, including recent shooting deaths of police officers.  Critics have derided the law as a thinly veiled attempt at "racial profiling."  Bordering states of California and New Mexico have issued statements affirming their displeasure at the bill, while our neighbor to the South, Mexico has even scorned Arizona for the measure. To be sure, Mexico's opinions of the law should have no bearing on the outcome of this controversial law.

My conservative brain initially is sympathetic toward favoring the law.  There is a set method for becoming a legal immigrant to the United States of America.  This nation has consistently supported new peoples becoming a part of this country.  Illegal immigrants who cross the border illegally are mocking our nation and might as well spit in our faces while saying "your laws mean nothing."  What would a nation like Italy do if I chose to randomly sneak into the country and were discovered?  They would do precisely what they should -- deport me to my nation of origin.  Illegal immigration in the United States is a severe problem.

Though illegal immigration is a persistent problem, I believe Arizona's law is the incorrect course of action.  This law allows police to stop people they believe are illegal immigrants.  This will lead toward countless citizens being stopped for no real reason.  What does an illegal immigrant look like?  Are they Hispanic?  Do they wear only shoddy clothes?  What if a homeless man is stopped?  Are they likely to have documentation showing they are indeed a citizen?  Will white people be stopped?

Supporters of the law try to assuage the fears of the minorities by asking, "How big of an inconvenience is it to show your driver's license to a police officer?"  The answer:  not much of one at all.  But that isn't the point.  This law is a blatant violation of the 4th amendment to the United States Constitution, which reads:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Please note the first line, which says humans have a right to be secure in their persons.  This security is lost with Arizona's law.  The law creates a society in which a person cannot be secure -- they are in fear they may be stopped for no legitimate reason.  No warrants, no probable cause. Where would this type of law go next?  The 4th amendment was designed to prevent this type of government action. During colonial times, agents of the British government would use general warrants or writs of assistance to broadly search whatever they wanted.  Americans sought to correct this.  Though I do not believe this law means we will ultimately become fascists, I firmly believe it is unconstitutional and hope the courts will rule as such.  Several challenges are already being formulated.

I am further puzzled by Arizona's actions with regard to an even bigger picture.  Individuals states have been clamoring for their 10th amendment rights and for the federal government to stay only within its realm of Constitutionally enumerated powers.  Law concerning immigration is clearly a federal power and yet the state of Arizona deems it necessary to stray into an area which it clearly does not belong.

Preventing illegal immigration needs addressed, and if nothing else, Arizona has made certain this issue has become more salient.  The federal government needs to take charge and secure our borders.  Though Arizona's attempt may be misguided, they understand the need to stop illegal immigration.  Former President George W. Bush's eight years in office and President Barack Obama's short term thus far have yielded little in addressing this issue.


  1. with no intent to discount the Arizona portion of your blog, I will comment on Massey. From personal experience (unfortunately) I can attest that Massey seeking settlement quickly is typical of, say, your average car insurance company in light of an auto accident. They hope that the injured party/parties will see this as a generous offer and accept it with little or no investigation into the legality of it or their own legal rights. The insurance company is well aware of its own fault in the case and hopes to pay out as little as possible in order to sweep things under the rug.
    That being said, Massey Energy is no average company with their history of safety violations, this tragedy is far beyond comparison with any typical auto-accident, and the VERY high profile this tragedy has drawn undoubtedly necessitates extreme care and sensitivity, neither of which Massey has shown/is showing.
    THAT being said, shame on you, Massey Energy. It does not take legal counsel to tell you NOT to make such an immorally insensitive offer; it takes a good heart and common sense.

    Ok, getting off my soap box and going to bed. Thanks yet again, Don, for a well written and thought provoking blog. :)

  2. The Arizona law actually states that for an individual to be questioned or asked to provide legal documentation of their immigration status, they must have first committed a crime (like a traffic violation, robbery, murder, etc.) and have been placed in custody or told that they are receiving a citation.

    The (liberal) media (CNN, MSNBC, etc.) have been leaving this out of their reports on the law to slant the opinion of those across the country and world.

    CNN has even gone on record as reporting that former congressmen Tancredo is against this new law. That was a complete lie. Tancredo has received several press releases that state that he supports the law but has small objections to some wording in the language of how to deal with someone who is here illegally.

    If the federal government had stepped up and done their part to begin with, Arizona would not have to step up and police this themselves.

  3. I had a major typo in my post. I said, "Tancredo has received several press releases that state that he supports the law..." I meant to say that he had "released" them, not received. Sorry for the confusion it may have caused.

  4. The state of Arizona did not change this law to a secondary offense until Saturday.

  5. Did you read the original language of the bill that was passed? I read it and interpreted it as the secondary offense as all did all of those who voted in favor of it.

    The changes that were passed were just to clarify the language, which I will agree, was a bit vague.

    I still did not see this as anything other than a secondary offense.

    My biggest gripe about all of this is that the government of Mexico has come out against it, yet they have immigration laws that have far worse punishments and provisions that Arizona's.