We live in a paranoid era of documentation and identification. Not having documentation can be problematic.
In the news the other day, a sad story about a young man locked up by ICE for over three years, facing deportation. The problem was, he was a U.S. Citizen, and it is illegal for ICE to detain a U.S. Citizen. He sued for false imprisonment and won $82,000 (that's worth three years' detention, right?) but it was overturned on appeal on a technicality - the statute of limitations for suing had run while he was in prison.
And you wonder why I no longer practice law.
The problem he had was he kept insisting he was a U.S. Citizen but had no real documentation to readily prove this. All he had was a copy of his Father's naturalization papers, which, since he was77 17 at the time, automatically made him a citizen as well. Problem is, you are asking ICE agents to do mathematics which is a stretch. We see ICE folks training here all the time at the Federal Law Enforcement Training center, and let me just say that, compared to Park Police, Homeland Security, and TSA, they don't look too bad, but then again that ain't saying much.
Relying on a copy of your Father's immigration papers is sort of a weak form of identification and proof of residency. Getting a passport is a better idea.
If you are going to reside in the United States these days, you'd best get your documents in order. And before you decry this as a sign of a "fascist state" let me remind you that in most European countries and Japan, having your documents in order is sort of a given. The USA has a history of lax documentation, mostly because our freedom-loving populace is antagonistic to the idea of a national identity card or serial number (although they are quick to line up for their Social Security benefits, of course!).
In many States today, you can be thrown in jail if you "look foreign" and don't have proof of citizenship. Mercedes-Benz found this out the hard way, when one of their executives was jailed in Alabama when he could not provide proof he was in the country legally.
But this applies in areas other than immigration. The ACLU has made a big deal about using a 92-year-old woman in Michigan as their poster-child for overturning voter-ID laws. They claim she has no ID and has difficulty getting one, and thus cannot vote. I suspect she would also have trouble collecting Social Security, getting a driver's license, a credit card, cashing a check and a host of other things you need to do to survive in society.
This is a crazy idea, I know, but it would be a lot more cost-effective if the ACLU helped this lady get a proper ID rather than fight this law. In fact, why not set up a fund to help people get proper ID? I am sure many attorneys would help with pro-bono representation or whatever else is needed. When you argue for no-ID voting, you are basically arguing to allow for voter fraud. I am not saying voter fraud happens very much, but it is a concern not just for one party, but both (this is particularly true for mail-in ballots).
The change in ID laws came pretty suddenly in 2001. When I moved to Washington DC in 1987, I had two pieces of ID. The first was a paper driver's license issued by the State of New York. It was dog-eared and had been through the laundry at least once. It was not a photo ID. The second piece of ID I had was a "birth registration" to "Unnamed Male Bell", which I think was done because I was not expected to survive my birth. I was a bitter disappointment to my parents from the get-go, it seems.
When I sat for the Virginia bar, I had to order a copy of my birth certificate from Rochester. That allowed me to get a passport as well. And very quickly after 9/11, you had to have three forms of "primary ID" to renew a driver's license or other government ID. It was (and is), in a way, Catch-22. You need ID to get ID, and if you don't have ID, you can't get ID.
I also finally ordered a Social Security card, which I never had in my life, but was easy to get online. So today, I have three primary forms of ID - a driver's license, a passport, and a Birth Certificate, as well as a Social Security card. Only the passport shows that I am a citizen of the US and is a photo ID.
And sometimes that is not even enough in this day and age. As I noted in an earlier posting:
A few years back, a friend of mine, who came here as a Cuban refugee in 1968, was pulled over by the Georgia State Patrol. This was before the onerous Nuremburg laws were passed in Georgia, allowing the Police - nay, requiring the Police to investigate the immigration status of anyone deemed "suspect".
The Officer who did the traffic stop was a young fellow - pink of skin, with folds of fat around his neck, his head a burr of close-cut hair. If you live in Georgia, you know what I am talking about. A well-fed boy. He was apparently fairly new to the force, as he was accompanied by an older Officer - a female - who held back and watched the traffic stop. Perhaps he was in training. We do not know.
Anyway, after asking my friend for his license and registration, he asks, "Do you have any proof of residency?" Of course, at the time, he didn't even have the legal right to ask this, as these new onerous laws had not been passed. But he asked anyway, no doubt because he listened to talk radio all day long and the vile hatred spewed by the anti-immigrant forces had seeped into his brain. And here was his chance to catch an illegal "Spic" and send him back to Mexico!
Why was he suspicious of my friend? Was he riding in the back of a pickup truck with a load of lawn care equipment? Hardly. He was wearing a suit and tie and driving a Mercedes-Benz. He hardly looked "Hispanic" in any sense. But he does have a charming (to me, anyway) thick Cuban accent. "Oh, Looooocy! I'm Hooooome!"
Now my friend actually had his U.S. Passport with him, which was lucky for him, and today would be a requirement if anyone with any sort of accent wants to leave the house. So he pulled it out and gave it to the Officer. No doubt, this boy of a Policeman had never even seen a U.S. Passport, having never left his home town in rural Georgia, other than to attend Police Academy. He riffled through the Passport, mystified. "Where in here does it say you are here legally?" he intoned, shining his flashlight in my friend's face.
"It is a U.S. Passport!" my friend cried.
"Yea, I see that, but where is it stamped that you got here legally?"
At this point, the other Officer got out of the car, sensing something wasn't right. "What's going on here, Clem?" she asked.
"This fellow has no proof of residency! All he has is a U.S. Passport!"
The second Officer quickly sized up the situation, gabbed the passport from Clem and handed it back to my friend. "Thank you sir, you're free to go!" she said, taking Clem by the elbow.
As he started up the Mercedes, he could hear them arguing. No doubt, she was trying to explain to him that a U.S. Passport was indeed, proof of Citizenship and that moreover, under the law (at the time) he had no right to even ask about such things.
For my friend, there was a tinge of irony in all of this. His family had escaped Cuba, at a time when a simple drive down the street would take them through roadblocks where "revolutionary guards" would ask them for their "identification papers, please" and then scrutinize them with skepticism. They lived in fear and uncertainty - and prayed that the whims of one official or guard would not land them in jail, or beaten and left for dead by the side of the road.
So you see, in this paranoid era, even having all your documentation might not be enough. But if you have a passport, at least the Judge will let you go, even if some cop brings you in, in error.
The other side of the coin is, if you are a legal resident and have the chance to become a U.S. Citizen, do it. Do it now, don't delay. If you have some qualms about being a U.S. Citizen because you don't like the United States, then please leave. No, seriously. I have no truck if you hate our country, but don't come here and live and work, then. It is blatant hypocrisy.
You may recall also a recent case in Texas, where a judge was suspended from office when it was discovered she was not a U.S. Citizen. Fortunately, others intervened to speed up the application process, as she was qualified to become a U.S. Citizen once she married. For some weird reason, she wanted to keep one foot in Korea, which like the US, does not recognize dual-citizenship. I have little sympathy for her - you want to be a judge here, you have to go all-in on your commitment to this country. I'm glad it worked out for her, but it again makes me wonder why some people get our sympathy and have the rules bent for them, whereas others are told to go fuck themselves. And I say this, as I tend to be the one told to go fuck himself more often than not.
Then there is the weird case of the guy let of out jail early - who was a legal resident and married a US National. He could have applied for citizenship once he got married, but didn't do so. Now he is rotting in an ICE jail awaiting deportation to Cuba. In the six years he was free, he could have applied and obtained citizenship, and it would have made all the difference in his life.
If you can become a citizen, do it. Millions of people would love to have the opportunity to live in the US and be a citizen of this country. While being a "legal resident" may seem like the same thing, you have far less rights. If you are convicted of a felony, for example, you can (and will) be deported. Something as simple as drunk driving can land you back in a "home country" that is alien to you.
If you are already a U.S. Citizen, get a passport. Maybe you will never leave the USA, but it still comes in handy as a "primary" form of identification. Even traveling to Canada these days can be difficult if you don't have a passport - particularly when you are returning to the new, paranoid, USA.
A passport makes your life a whole lot easier in other ways. To renew your driver's license, for example, you need those three forms of "primary" ID, and a passport fills one of those roles neatly. As I noted in an earlier posting:
I recounted before about how a man at the Virginia DMV in Arlington held up the line while he went through a meltdown, screaming at the entry clerk that he "didn't have time" to go back home to get these documents.
I finally tapped him on the shoulder and he turned and shouted, "WHAT?"
I then calmly explained to him that three of the 9/11 hijackers got their fake IDs standing in line right where he is standing right now, and that the clerk behind the kiosk was not authorized - nor was anyone in the building authorized - to make an exception for him, and that he might as well spend the 15 minutes of screaming and arguing, pulling out hair and rending garments, just driving back to his condo in Foreclosure Mews Estates and getting the damn documents.
The clerk mouthed the words, "thank you" as he left.
Yea, it is a "hassle" to assemble all the necessary documents, get a bad photo taken, and either mail in all the stuff (and the application form) or appear in-person at a designated office. But in retrospect, not that much of a hassle, really, as you send the stuff in and just wait in the mail. And once you have a passport, it is easy to renew by mail.
So just do it.
So just do it.