22 June 2004
Documenting the undocumented
The next voice you hear is that of Albert Najera, the Chief of Police of Sacramento, California.
Why are we criminalizing behavior where the "criminals" would comply with the law if they were allowed to do so by the state? Why are we penalizing people for coming to California after we entice them here with jobs and quality of life standards far above what they can ever achieve in their homelands? Why don't we face reality and concede that we cannot keep our standard of living and our low cost of quality products and services or our booming building industry without foreign nationals? Why are my officers wasting their time persecuting these people when the actual incidence of their criminality is very low?
And what was this "crime"?
My officers were properly and lawfully towing cars driven by foreign nationals because the individuals were not licensed by the state. We also were unintentionally depriving a man of the tools of his trade, his means of supporting himself and the customers of his service.
I also noticed a young family standing by the warm glow of the police command vehicle. That family also had their vehicle towed, legally and properly, because the young father was unlicensed. I will never forget the look on the young boy's face as he watched the family car roll away. This working family, now facing a tow and storage bill that could easily run $1,000, suddenly was without transportation.
Ah, yes. Driving without a license. I can see how Chief Najera's heart bleeds for these folks. I can also see no chance of any sympathy for me, were I caught in this situation; while I have Latino roots, I also have a driver's license and US citizenship.
The Chief, on the other hand, thinks California ought to be issuing credentials to people who don't have any, just on general principle:
California must do what the federal government may never be able to do: Develop a public policy to deal with the reality of our interdependence on the labor and services provided by foreign nationals.
We cannot wait for the U.S. government to declare these people legal, semi-legal or some other unrealistic terminology. To simply say these people are "illegals" and wait for the feds to do something is hurtful, wasteful and divisive.
Last time I checked the Constitution, Congress had the power "to establish a uniform rule of naturalization" (Article I, Section 8); this would seem to suggest that California has no authority to bypass existing federal laws (Title 8, United States Code).
But the Chief is right on one count: declaring these folks "legal" or "semi-legal" is indeed unrealistic.
I have no doubt that the "interdependence on the labor and services provided by foreign nationals" is as extensive as Chief Najera says it is. I still don't think it's a good enough reason to do an end-run around the laws. To quote California's best-known immigrant, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger:
I waited for 10 years to get my American citizenship. And I know first-hand how immigrants who come to this country and obey the laws have struggled to achieve their dreams. I am pro-immigrant. But we should not invite fraud or undermine law enforcement. The federal government has expressed security concerns... and, in a time of heightened national security, we should not undermine our nation's immigration laws.
Of course, if you're an actual citizen and you don't cough up your identification, you're busted. What's wrong with this picture?
(Suggested by Ravenwood's Universe)