“I was born here!”Posted: 1 Jul 12
President Obama’s recent change to immigration enforcement policy and the ruling by the Supreme Court on Arizona’s Immigration Law have immigration issues much in the public eye right now. So I wanted to relate a story that I think illustrates how some of these issues affect real people.
A middle-aged man walks into the Department of Public Safety (in Texas, Drivers’ Licenses are handled by the same department that runs the highway patrol) to renew his driver’s license. He approaches the reception desk, announces his intention and presents his current license. He’s been a licensed driver in the state for about 16 years and in another state for a decade prior to that. He’s renewed his license several times since moving to Texas and updated his address once in between renewals with no problems, so he anticipates the same will be true this time. Alas, it is not to be.
“Where’s your green card?” asks the nice, South-Asian-descended man behind the desk. His nametag reads “Sunil.”
The man–let’s call him “Hug0”–is confused. “Green card? What are you talking about?”
“Your Green Card, or whatever documents you used to get this license. You should have brought that with you.”
“I’m a citizen,” says Hugo, “I was born here!”
“Not according to this,” insists Sunil, gesturing toward the screen. “This says you are not a citizen.”
“That’s crazy!” Hugo is starting to get upset. “I want to see my record.”
“Your record is clear, no accidents or citations.”
“No, you idiot,” (okay, I may be paraphrasing with what Hugo would have liked to say), “I’ve been a driver in Texas for decades and have never had to prove my citizenship before. You’ve screwed up my citizenship status and I want to look at my record and see what other crazy lies you have in my record so that I can correct them all at once.”
“I’m sorry, sir,” Sunil mechanically apologizes, “That’s not allowed.”
Hugo suspects that pointing out that Federal Law requires that people be allowed access to their own records to make corrections is not going to get him anywhere. “Okay, does my reocrd say that I’m not a citizen or that you don’t know my citizenship status?”
“It says you are not a citizen.”
“That’s crazy,” Hugo repeats, but he is able to get Sunil off his back with his passport, which has never been necessary before, through all the renewals and the change of address, and for that matter, to get his license in the first place.
It takes awhile for Hugo’s number to be called, but finally he finds his window, staffed by a pretty, young woman perhaps of Hispanic descent. Hugo presents his license: “I need to renew this.”
“Are you a Permanent Resident?” the young woman asks innocently.
Hugo refrains from using profanity, but his is visibly and audibly upset that once again he has to prove his citizenship.
The woman in the next cubicle tries to explain: “Last year we got a new database system and the citizenship field didn’t transfer over, so it just says ‘unknown’.”
Hugo retorts, “That doesn’t even make sense! First of all, in the current climate, wouldn’t the DPS want to make sure any existing citizenship data they have carry over? It defies belief that they would accept that field not being carried over. Second, two people in a row now have assumed, if I’m to believe this story, that ‘unknown’ means ‘not a citizen’ which is also ridiculous. And finally, when I asked that specific question to the guy at the front desk, he specifically told me that it did NOT say ‘unknown’ it said I was not a citizen. So I don’t believe you. Unless one of you wants to turn the screen around and show me directly what my record says, I’m going to assume that Sunil and this young lady are not both idiots, and that you, ma’am, are lying.”
Actually, some of the foregoing went unsaid, but what did happen is that the young lady tried, meekly, to apologize for her part in the whole thing, and Hugo, since he did have his passport, managed to get his license renewed without any further incident. Nobody got tased.
But let’s play a little game of “what if.” What would have happened if Hugo had been stopped for some kind of traffic violation that required that the police check his license. It could have come back saying that Hugo was not a citizen. Since Hugo doesn’t typically carry his birth certificate on his person or his passport while he’s in the U.S., would he have been detained for not being able to prove his “immigration status?” What if this had been in Arizona?
Texas is in the middle of a big fight over Voter ID laws and the supposed voter fraud it would supposedly protect against. What if Texas decided to purge its voter roles of suspected illegal immigrants–as Florida is doing–and sent their Drivers’ License Records to county registrars across the state? Would anyone inform Hugo that his voter registration was about to be cancelled? Would Hugo arrive at his appointed polling place on Election Day only to find that he has been disenfranchised? Over a stupid error?
Let me tell you a few more things about Hugo. Hugo does not have a Spanish surname. He is not dark complected. He does not speak with any accent other than a mix of upper-Midwest cadence and Central Texas vowel substitutions. Not only was he born here, but so were his parents and grandparents. And most of his great-great-great-grandparents. Several branches of his family tree came to this country before it was a country. He’s a Mayflower descendant, for crying out loud. You don’t get much more White/Anglo than that.
And I know his story is real, because Hugo is me. This is not some kind of political satire (though you couldn’t write a better one with an Indian telling a white guy he has to provide documentation), it’s an honest-to-God true story with just a smattering of dramatic license. If there is a silver lining, I guess it could be that at least it’s race-neutral disenfranchisement.
I worry about this country sometimes.