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Friday, May 7, 2010

The impossibility of immigration papers

All of the discussion on illegal immigration and whether the new Arizona law is good or even constitutional is missing a huge point.

It is impossible to determine quickly and easily whether someone is here legally.

Most people seem to assume that there is a giant list of immigrants. As if the local police officer can call an 800 number and verify the green card number he has been presented with. There is not. There is a bureaucracy instead.

There are actually legal ways to be in this country without being able to prove it.

Most people also assume that since the law requires legal immigrants to carry their papers with them that they will have proof on them at all times.

Even if an immigrant is here legally there are issues with the current federal processes which can create edge cases. I recently watched a friend of mine achieve his citizen status and just coming from Canada it’s a bizarre narrative which would be unbelievable in a movie script.

Your legal documentation can expire without being replaced while you are waiting for some INS process to move forward. In that case you are not an illegal immigrant. You’ve been given an implicit extension, but if asked to provide the documentation (which you are legally required to carry at all times) you can’t because the documentation you have shows an expired date. What do you think an AZ police officer is going to do with that?

God help you if the Feds just sort of forget about you and accidently just lose your file (as I saw it happen).

How the hell do you tell an immigrant from a citizen?

Yes they are actually discussing this one but it bears repeating because it is extremely important. A citizen carries no papers. An illegal carries no papers. The only people you actually can identify are immigrants who are here legally who are trying to comply with the law because they have papers (which as mentioned before may not be proper). As I see it the only thing asking for papers will do is

  1. Violate my right of free movement without the need to carry identification
  2. Falsely accuse legal immigrants of illegality when they are caught in a screwed up process
  3. Assume everyone with a foreign accent and no papers is an illegal alien

None of those is particularly appealing and are generally downright offensive.

If someone can come up with a law that enables you to really identify illegal aliens without having to require me carry around identification I’ll listen. But until then the real issue is fixing the immigration process, because you cannot enforce laws surrounding status without being able to identify that status in the first place.

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