Guilty Until Proven Innocent: America Today

In our everyday lives, whether during air travel or shopping for groceries, a presumption of guilt pervades.

Tim Boyle/Getty Images
The Transportation Security Agency checks a traveler with a wand at O'Hare International Airport on August 18, 2006 at Chicago. Tim Boyle/Getty Images

With the expiration of the Covid-era rule justifying the expulsion of illegal border-crossers on public health grounds, the Biden Administration, to the dismay of progressives, has gone Trumpish. Absent “Title 42,” Citizen and Immigration Services will now “presume individuals who entered the United States unlawfully are ineligible for asylum.”  

This turnabout brings us back to the Trump-era “Remain in Mexico” policy — to which the Biden Administration has added refugee centers in Latin America.

The new border policy, put another way, presumes guilt, as it were. As contrary as this may seem to the core principle of American justice — presumption of innocence — it actually serves as a good introduction for migrants to the lives all Americans are living today. In our everyday lives, a presumption of guilt pervades.

The most obvious example is the Transportation Security Agency screening at airports. Millions of Americans are being routinely subjected to body searches without any basis for believing they are a threat to harm others. When earrings on gray-haired women set off alarms, these and so many other law-abiding citizens must raise their arms and let officers of the state search them.

The need for airplane security is real. Yet in insisting on universal screening and potential searches we ignore other approaches, including profiling based on past travel, as the Israelis do. In order to avoid the possibility of perceived injustice — like, say, Islamophobia — we presume that any and all Americans are guilty until proven innocent.

Nor is this the only example. Less well-known but intrusive, as well, is the Bank Secrecy and Anti-Money Laundering Act. Little-known to customers, any transaction involving a $10,000 cash transaction requires your bank to file a “suspicious activity report” about you to its regulator. Any small business that still takes in substantial cash revenue gets caught in this net.  

Should a random Treasury Department check zero in on your “suspicious activity report” you will, just as at the airport, be guilty until you prove yourself innocent. By the way, the “compliance” requirements of these laws burdens banks as a sunk cost that limits their capacity to direct capital — lending — to worthwhile new ventures. 

Without a doubt, the vast, $80 billion-plus expansion of the Internal Revenue Service to audit tax returns will extend the  cloud of guilt to the blameless. Confusion or disorganization will not protect one from audits and resulting interest payments. 

More broadly put, the activities of lawbreakers are being combated by targeting the law-abiding. So it is even in daily life.  Consider  the collateral effects of retail shoplifting, now costing Walgreens, Target, and Costco billions annually. 

Not only do Costco shoppers, for instance, have to wait in long lines to check out, they must similarly wait in queues just to exit the store. One must present a receipt for inspection. One is, yes, presumed guilty until proven otherwise.

Speaker Pelosi notoriously got the idea of the American system of justice backwards, when she said in March that President Trump, in the Stormy Daniels hush-money case, would have a chance to “prove his innocence.”  

Yet she would not have been wrong had she been describing much of what average Americans must now daily endure — the need to prove our innocence.  

The New York Sun

© 2024 The New York Sun Company, LLC. All rights reserved.

Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. The material on this site is protected by copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, cached or otherwise used.

The New York Sun

Sign in or  Create a free account

By continuing you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use