Guest Opinion: An undocumented, legal U.S. citizen
That’s my step-father, Bob. He’s hard-of-hearing, legally blind in the one eye he has left after a childhood accident and is showing signs of senile dementia. He can walk short distances and enjoys sitting outdoors on nice days with his wife and his daughter when she comes to visit.
He lives in Ashby Ponds, where senior citizens have comfortable homes. Bob has lived in the U.S. for the last 92 years, after being born in a North Dakota town that doesn’t exist anymore.
It seems that the government of Virginia has decided that the U.S. he was born in doesn’t exist anymore either. That’s because, when he went to the DMV to obtain a non-driver ID card, in spite of the fact that he is a natural-born American citizen, is registered to vote here, had a driver’s license in his previous home state of South Carolina, has been married for the last 10 years to my mother (also a natural-born American citizen, who was at the DMV with him, with her American passport in her hand), and was carrying a Social Security card he has had for over half a century, the Commonwealth of Virginia declared that he could not prove he was in this country legally.
Until he can, they said, Bob can’t have an ID card. In Virginia’s version of the U.S., Bob is an undocumented resident, because he cannot find his birth certificate, without which, he cannot convince his new home state of Virginia that he is not an illegal immigrant.
As a result, this harmless old man was told, “no, you cannot have a non-driver ID card, because we have decided it is your job to prove you are an American, and we’re not convinced.” No, it is not the government of Virginia’s job, thanks to our legislature, to prove this American citizen is not here legally. It is, according to our lawmakers, his job to prove that he is here legally.
Somewhere, someone must be feeling safer when they sleep tonight because of this. That person isn’t me, because I’m wondering what useful thing our General Assembly could have been doing instead. I’m wondering what school didn’t get funded, what traffic light didn’t get installed, what program for the elderly or disabled didn’t get started.
Clearly, our legislators think law-abiding people can be trampled on as they rush to pass whatever bill they can think of that will let them say they are being tough on the source of everything that’s wrong in Virginia today: illegal aliens.
Some really vile illegal immigrants, like some really vile American citizens, have committed some really vile crimes in the U.S. People like me think we should focus on the best options to reduce that kind of crime. People who passed this idiotic “papers please” requirement for an ID card apparently think we should focus on options to reduce the illegal immigrants, instead, whether that makes the most difference to crime or not, and, obviously, whether that abuses law-abiding American citizens or not.
I think their priorities and goals are all wrong, but, even if they’re not, why does a 92-year-old American have to prove his citizenship to Virginia? More importantly, why doesn’t being married to a life-long citizen, having a Social Security number for decades, being licensed to drive in another state, and being registered to vote in this one not meet our oh-so-pressing state security interest for proof of legal status? Would it really be too much for Virginia if those things were regarded as proof enough from a man who can barely see or hear, and who is nearly 100 years old, when he can’t find his birth certificate?
I have always said that this is what would happen if we didn’t keep a rational perspective on illegal immigration. I have always said that we’d end up thoughtlessly imposing proof-of-legal-residence requirements that did more harm than good. I have always said it would be bad leadership to, as we are doing now, punish the innocent because we can’t lay our hands on the guilty. But, in spite of the obvious problems this would and does cause, somebody somewhere must have thought it was a good idea to make Americans prove they are Americans.
And some of the people who thought so were in the Virginia legislature on a day when they couldn’t think of anything better to do. I’m just guessing, but I’ll also say I bet none of those legislators were 92 years old, mostly blind, and nearly deaf.
A good thing, too, if I’m right, because that means they’re going to be able to see and hear, quite clearly, what it is the friends and family of Americans like Bob are about to show and tell them, when we lay this all on each of their desks, and demand to know what they’re going to do for an elderly American who only wanted his government to give him a card with his own name and picture on it, and his government told him it was his job to prove he should get it, not their job to prove that he shouldn’t.
Stevens Miller is an attorney and sat on the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, representing the Dulles district.