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Immigration and Ids: A Modest Proposal

By Newsweek

May 14, 2010



"As an American, I cannot go to Arizona today without a passport," declared Los Angeles City Councilman Ed Reyes, one of the sponsors of a resolution to boycott Arizona's businesses because of its new immigration law. "If I come across an officer who's having a bad day and feels that the picture on my ID is not me, I can be…deported, no questions asked," the hyperbolic Reyes told the Los Angeles Times this week. "That is not American.''

As it happens, when I was in Arizona for a conference last month I carried my passport everywhere I went. Not that I really expected to be asked for it: I was born in Tennessee and my Scots-Irish, English, German, and Danish forebears got me an exemption from such tribulations, even in Arizona, simply because they were all white. The fact is, I always carry my passport. After years living and working in Europe, the Middle East, and Central America, I've grown used to the idea that cops can ask me for my "papers" any time they choose.

In police states, this is a pretty ugly process--most often an attempt at intimidation, or extortion, or both. In democracies, it can be pretty ugly, too, and sometimes for the same reasons. But you get used to it, and if we're serious about drawing lines against illegal immigration--which is all about defining who is a card-carrying American and who is not--a national ID is the obvious first step. Without it, we're left guessing who "looks like" or "sounds like" a bona fide gringo.

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