Our “Papers, Please” Society

by Christopher Paul on May 5, 2011

I was scanning my RSS feeds a while ago and came across this post from Mother Jones which discusses Alabama’s proposal to prevent undocumented students from participating in extracurricular activities. It’s not specifically aimed at students but it covers them. According to MJ, the proposal states:

…the “Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act,” takes steps to block employers from hiring illegal immigrants, gives law enforcement more authority to check immigration status, requires voters to bring proof of citizenship with them to the polls—and prohibits “participation in any extracurricular activity outside of the basic course of study” for K-12 students who aren’t legal residents.

Similar to the law passed in Arizona, it gives law enforcement the right to stop and ask for documentation. If it can’t be produced, I imagine they can be detained for processing. Supporters of the bill say its about protecting jobs and lowering expenses for the tax payers. I’m not convinced these laws will have that kind of obvious, measurable impact but I also doubt that’s the point of these laws.

Driver’s licenses aren’t the best way to determine citizenship. They are easily forged in some cases, state requirements for getting one vary greatly, and young people (you, know… those that sometimes go to proms) might not be of age to drive. Passports seem to be the only way to show citizenship and for those visiting the country and driving, there’d be documentation to show entry and other details.

But when you start forcing people for passports, you start enforcing a national ID – which is something people have tried and failed to do (so far). And when you start asking for passports – or driver’s licenses, for that matter – we becoming a “papers, please” society? I can imagine a world where to travel from state to state, you need to show your passport to get in.

There’s no way to look at or listen to a person and know they’re a citizen. Imagine the cast of Jersey Shore visited Alabama; the cops would definitely profile them and ask to see their papers. They fit the undocumented “profile:” brown skin, funny accent. The situation would get out of control (see how I used that pun?) because they’d have to search everyone just to be sure.

These documentation laws only ruin America for Americans. They instill Soviet-style papers requirements and grant the police unlimited search freedoms – at the expense of ours. We’d have to worry about forgetting our documentation or fear being caught and detained until we could prove we’re from this country. We wouldn’t be able to travel from state to state without providing our passport. It would be like driving to Canada and being asked 20 questions by border patrol – only the border would be the one between New York and New Jersey.

It’s so odd that people who swore to protect and defend the Constitution and the spirit of America would reduce it to nothing and subject its own citizens to such behavior – taking away the freedoms so many died to protect. There are many moral, economical, social, and ethical reasons for stopping this subjugation that I can’t understand why anyone would propose such an idea but the fear of a Soviet style “papers, please” state is certainly one of them.

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