Sunday, May 21, 2006

First They Came For the Immigrants

…and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t ---wwoops.

Mine is a special kind of immirgant status. The white privileged kind. The foreign-born of American parents kind. The citizen with voting rights. Most of the time, I forget myself.

When I went to City Hall to register in 1988, I forgot to bring my Naturalization papers with me. I filled out the registration form, wrote out my place of birth with its official name Federal Republic of Germany, checked the US Citizen box, and handed the form across the counter. “Do you have your certificate with you?” asked the City Hall desk clerk. I mentally kicked myself for having wasted my own time. Reaching for the form back, I admitted, “No, I am so sorry. I don’t know what I was thinking. I’ll have to come back.”

She said, “Oh, I’m sure it’s all right. Just bring it by some time.” And she registered me to vote. This does not happen when your name is Luz Hernandez. Still, the Constitution is clear on my inability to become President, and I have just come closer to having to carry an identification card.

When the president called recently for an identification card for “every legal foreign worker,” he touched on the modern American point of view that Good people don’t mind rules that don’t (appear to) apply to them. [Let the record reflect that I did not use the word zeitgeist just now].

We have an identification card for legal foreign workers already -- we call it the Green Card. The presidential address made this rhetorical argument: people sneak over the border and Americans hire them without checking for the proper authorization, which we should change to be more space-age to prevent illegal employment.

Even if you accept the premise that there is Green Card graft going on, would a new kind of card will change? Or is there Executive Order 9066 again. The majority of interred individuals were American citizens.

All week long, I have heard news reporters ask people “on the street” if they were disturbed by phone tapping, record seizures, biometric ID cards, face-recognition software. The ones that make it on the air tend to say something like, “if you have nothing to hide, it shouldn’t bother you.” The issue is not what they are looking for, but that we allow them to look for it.

It is too easy to use Nazi Germany’s patch-color taxonomy in a discussion like this, and lessens the scale of the Holocaust to ever compare it to anything. I offer instead a series of 1948 laws which began by defining “legitimate” marriages, then racial designations, and ID papers which validated the bearer’s employment, residence, and authorization to travel from one to the other. By the time the government of South Africa was ready to relocate all of its Black citizens, only 6 years later, there was plenty of infrastructure to support apartheid.

When our own government has similar ideas, about immigrants, homosexuals, people with mental illness, women, and other threats to “our” way of life (whoever “we” are), I hope we’ll make it difficult for them. Any society can slip backwards if those at the back of the line let go of the end of the rope.

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