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Equal Protection

In his column today, "The Young and Exploited Ask for Help," Clyde Haberman writes about what looks to me like an equal-protection problem. Or, rather, a problem that ought to be an equal-protection problem, but isn't, because laws protecting immigrant children from sex traffickers don't, ipso facto, apply to American children. Underage prostitutes, if they were born here, are not victims but criminals.

The thing is that if Ms. Waters and Ms. Smith were Thai or Russian and were turned into teenage prostitutes after arriving on these shores, they would be legally judged the victims of sex traffickers. But they are in effect penalized by being home grown, deemed to have committed criminal acts under New York law and subject to arrest and prosecution.

Before I cry "Injustice!", however, I reflect on another column in today's Times, David Brooks's. In "The Next Culture War," Mr Brooks distinguishes between educated individualists, who may be liberal or conservative, and "neighborhood" Americans, who tend to support nationalist and community values. Mr Brooks is also writing within the context of immigration, as it happens, and his discussion helps me to understand how it came to be that where you were born will determine how our legal system will treat you if it catches you selling your body. Thai and Russian girls are of no interest to neighborhood Americans, who will probably never encounter any. Therefore it's easy for cosmopolitan elitists to stand up for them without facing any opposition. American girls are quite something else, at least in the eyes of neighborhood Americans.

It's funny that Mr Brooks thinks that he's writing about the next culture war.


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