An American Editor

April 26, 2010

Documenting Me

As you know, this is not a political blog. But sometimes I just have to stray into the political arena, which is where this article is headed.

For those who follow the news, Arizona’s legislature has passed and its governor has signed a new law that is supposed to discourage illegal immigration. The law authorizes law enforcement officers to stop suspected illegal immigrants and demand proof of citizenship. And to make sure law enforcement does its job, the law authorizes citizens who believe officers are not diligent enough to sue the government agencies to force more vigorous efforts.

I’m canceling my vacation to Arizona.

I have lots of problems with this law but I’ll focus on the fundamental flaw that compels me to sidestep Arizona: How do I prove I’m a citizen?

We do not have national identity cards. Last I looked, New York, where I live, doesn’t issue New York Proof of Citizenship cards. I have a driver’s license, but all that proves is that I’m licensed to drive, not that I’m a citizen. My Social Security card? We all know fake ones are readily available and the real ones don’t carry any personal identifying information.

Would a birth certificate do it? Mine doesn’t have any identifying information on it so what does showing it prove? That I have a piece of paper that says somone with my name was to born to my parents on such a date in such a place. Doesn’t seem to me to prove anything.

I suppose I could carry a passport, but as a citizen I object to being forced to obtain a passport to travel to Arizona. Arizona is still part of the United States, isn’t it?

My New York accent would immediately identify me as a foreigner in Arizona. Under the law, that’s probably probable cause enough to demand proof that I’m a citizen — we all know that New York is a magnet for immigrants. I’d sure hate to be stopped by one of those stereotypical southern sheriffs whose got a bug up his behind about New Yorkers.

Lincoln fought the Civil War to preserve our union, but Arizona may be onto a way to bust it apart. Imagine if every state enacted a similar law and erected a perimeter of border guards to check citizenship at every entry point. Suddenly we’d be citizens of a state rather than of a nation, but it sure would be a great way for one state to keep out the riffraff of another state.

Even more problematic is how the Republican vanguard in Arizona has done a 180-degree turnabout by enacting this legislation. It wasn’t so long ago that the Republicans of the west and southwest led the fight opposing a national identity card. Who wants big government to be able to identify its citizens! Imagine what our federal government could do to us, its citizens, if we had national identity cards — it might be able to find tax scofflaws and those who flee parking tickets. (Of course, it might also better enable us to fight terrorism and locate child abductors.) There is no unthinkable abuse that we citizens would/could not suffer — at least that’s what we were led to believe by the anti-ID Republicans.

But as is typical of politicians, Republican doublespeak here is really a roundabout way for the Republican party to support national identity cards without having to come right out and say so. The best way to stop illegal immigration is through use of a national identity card. Clearly the enhanced driver’s license idea isn’t working.

Arizona Republicans have given the federal government the perfect excuse/reason to require national identity cards — to prove citizenship — and to require that they be carried on one’s person 24/7/365 — in case one has to prove citizenship to an Arizona law enforcement officer. (Do you think Arizona will have special citizenship-checking lines at airports? What about trains as they pass through Arizona on the way to California? If you are going to insist that only citizens and legally present folk can use Arizona facilities, shouldn’t you do this right? Hmmm, perhaps this is really a full-employment law in disguise. How many more law enforcement officers will it take to check the identity lines at the local burger joint? Oh, those sneaky Republicans — no bailouts for them, just backdoor employment opportunities.)

I’m not personally opposed to national identity cards; what I am opposed to is political doublespeak, something that Arizona politicians seem to have mastered with this law. They demand you prove something that you really can’t easily prove under our current system. Under our current system, we work on the basis of trust.

We trust that the birth certificate I display really is mine and that it is legitimate. We trust the political agency that issued it and that the information was recorded correctly (well, except in the case of Hawaii, whose birth records are awful suspicious thus Arizona’s other new bit of legislation requiring presidential candidates to prove they are natural born citizens — or is it just in case John McCain runs again?). We do a lot of fundamental trusting — unless you live in Arizona and your name has a non-American flavor to it or your skin color is non-American.

Now if only Arizona could explain what makes a name or skin coloration non-American (a country and state of immigrants, it should be noted), I’d sleep better at night — but I still wouldn’t travel to Arizona. Who knows how long I’d be there trying to prove I truly am a citizen.


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