So there I was, a black man having dinner in a Chinese restaurant in Taneytown, a city named for a distant relative of the Supreme Court chief justice who said my people were not and could never be citizens. I was in Taneytown to attend a City Council meeting about the noncitizens who are called illegal immigrants.
God, you gotta love this country!
The Taneytown City Council met Monday night to discuss a plethora of issues, but it was Councilman Paul L. Chamberlain Jr.'s Resolution No. 2007-23 that garnered most of the attention - and discussion.
Chamberlain's resolution would have declared that Taneytown is not a "sanctuary city" for illegal immigrants. The resolution would have declared that, if it had passed. But Taneytown's five-member City Council chose another option.
They chumped out.
By a vote of 3-2, Chamberlain's resolution was shot down like a convict making a break for the outer gate of a penitentiary. The three who voted against it - Councilmen Henry C. Heine Jr., Angelo A. Zambetti and Mayor Pro Tem Jacquelyn J. Boisvert - gave what they felt were good reasons for not voting for the resolution. (Councilman Carl E. Ebaugh joined Chamberlain in voting for the resolution.)
"I've spent a lot of time thinking about the usefulness of the resolution," Zambetti said. "It's a resolution to enforce the law." Zambetti said Taneytown's been doing that. Heine and Boisvert agreed. So did Taneytown Mayor James. L. McCarron, who presides over council meetings, but has no vote.
In short, because Taneytown's already doing what Chamberlain's resolution called for it to do, there was no need for the resolution.
Oh, but there was. Cities that have identified themselves as "sanctuary cities" for illegal immigrants have done so proudly, without hesitation. That technically means that the elected officials in those cities will not help, in any way, federal authorities seeking to arrest illegal immigrants for being here illegally.
Taneytown's City Council passed on the opportunity to say just the opposite, that elected officials there support the enforcement of all laws: local, state and federal. Council members also passed on a chance to condemn what elected officials in sanctuary cities believe: that it's perfectly acceptable for people to pick and choose which laws they'll obey and which laws they'll break.
Heine said he received e-mails from his constituents saying they wanted him to concentrate on "real issues." Since when is the matter of a nation's citizens picking and choosing which laws they will and won't obey not a "real issue"?
That happens to be a very real issue, one we'd better face now, before it comes back to bite us in the nose later.
Just when you thought the days of interposition and nullification were over, they rear their heads again in the matter of illegal immigration. But instead of Southern governors, mayors and legislators invoking those doctrines to defend segregation, we have advocates for illegal immigrants invoking them because they find immigration laws inconvenient for those who either come to or remain in America illegally.
That distant laughter you hear is coming from guys like Ross Barnett and George Wallace, the former governors of, respectively, Mississippi and Alabama, who rode the state's-rights jackass to popularity in the 1960s. They're not so much turning over in their graves as cackling hysterically in them.
In antebellum America there were sanctuary cities that welcomed escaped slaves and refused to return them over to federal marshals, as required by the Fugitive Slave Law. But there was a higher principle involved: the notion that slavery was morally wrong.
What's the higher principle involved in not cooperating with federal authorities seeking to arrest those who violate our immigration laws? That the United States has no right to police its own borders the way every other country in this hemisphere does?
I'm not feeling that higher principle. Neither was Chamberlain nor, he said, his constituents.
"It was a concern from the citizens," Chamberlain said about why he introduced the resolution. They brought the subject up about eight months ago, Chamberlain said. He gave it some study and looked at what was happening in other parts of the state and country before deciding to take the matter to the City Council.
"As an elected official," he said shortly before Monday night's meeting, "I should be here voicing the concerns of the citizens. I shouldn't be here voicing my own agenda."
Chamberlain said he knows his position is risky politically.
"I know it's possible I can get voted out office because of this one issue," he said, adding that he'll have one solace, if that comes to pass.
"If that happens," Chamberlain said, "I can still sleep at night."
Greg Kane's column archive at baltimoresun.com/kane