Here’s an obvious fact: If you want to round up and deport 11 million men, women and children who entered the United States illegally, then the rest of us have to have a way to prove we are legal.
The core supporters of Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump should be especially concerned about this, loathing as they do the intrusion of the federal government into their lives, because the answer to the problem of proof of citizenship is clear. We’ll all have to carry national or, if you will, nationality ID cards.
Right now, what does the average citizen have that proves he or she is, in fact, a red-blooded American? Look at your driver’s license. … Nope. At least not on its face. Do you carry a birth certificate with you? (Do you even know where it is?)
Somewhat fewer than half of the people in the United States have passports or passport cards (there’s been a huge increase in the last 15 years), but even if you’re among that number who’ve paid up and papered up, chances are you won’t have the passport on your person.
In an era of mass deportations, that just won’t do. To be caught without your papers is to risk being detained or even imprisoned while your status is checked.
The cards will be “biometric,” of course, the IDs will have, at a minimum, a digital photo and digital fingerprints and machine-readable technology, which usually means a chip.
But why stop there?
After all, making America safe again, in Trump terms, means registering all Muslims. So their religion will have to be on their IDs — and ours will have to be on ours.
And what else might go on that chip?
One would expect that under a Trump administration, non-citizens and Muslims would not be allowed to buy guns. So citizens will have to show their IDs to buy firearms, and that information will go into a database. Bingo. National gun registration. Which may be a good idea, but not one that many of Trump’s cheerleaders are likely to support.
This possibility — a uniform national ID card with a chip full of information about you — has been creeping up on us for a long time, especially since the shock of September 11, 2001.
A Gallup poll in July 2002 showed a majority of Americans, 54 percent, supported "a law requiring all adults in this country to carry a government-issued national identification card that includes information such as their fingerprints."
Polls since then have been scarce. But in 2005, the REAL ID act set standards for federally compliant identity cards, and as of January 22, 2018, you won’t be able to get on a plane or enter a federal facility if your only ID is a driver’s license or other state-issued card that is non-compliant.
Some American liberals have supported the idea of a free national ID card as a way to empower voters in states where local identity requirements, tied as they are to travel and to car ownership, are used to disenfranchise the poor. In 2014, former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young proposed turning the Social Security card into a national photo ID.
But conservatives hated this proposal. Sen. Rand Paul denounced it as “a really bad idea” headed down the slippery slope toward the despised national ID, and over the years Republican opposition has created a series of torturous workarounds to avoid creating a straightforward federal identity card.
In 2008, in fact, for just such ideological reasons, Arizona passed a law that specifically prohibited the state’s department of transportation from issuing driver licenses that complied with the REAL ID program.
Last year, when Arizona lawmakers realized that this would mean anyone from Arizona who wanted to fly on a commercial airliner would have to get a U.S. passport ($110) or a passport card ($30), they reversed course.
Short of a passport or passport card, none of these approaches establishes definitively that you are in fact a citizen of the United States. And none is plugged into a national database that would determine whether you are Muslim or not.
Indeed, you never needed such documents inside the United States until now — or rather, until that hypothetical moment when Trump starts to turn his vague plan into an oppressive reality.
After the first debate with Hillary Clinton, Trump complained that nobody asked him about immigration or about The Wall that is the rock on which his political church is built.
A better question for the debates to come (once we get past the sexual assault and harassment issues) would be about the national ID, and his own plan tells us why.
Item number three in Trump’s 10-point immigration strategy announced in Arizona in August is “Zero tolerance for criminal aliens,” which sounds sensible enough at first, then starts to sound crazy as he elaborates.
In addition to those in jails or prisons, “there are a vast number of additional criminal illegal immigrants who have fled or evaded justice,” Trump declared. “But their days on the run will soon be over. They go out and go out fast.”
“We will issue detainers for all illegal immigrants who are arrested for any crime whatsoever,” he says, “and they will be placed into immediate removal proceedings.”
“Any crime whatsoever …”
Moreover, under Trump’s grand plan to solve what he keeps telling us is an immigration “crisis,” a major component is to enlist local cops and sheriff’s deputies in the operation, an approach that Arizona has tried with popular political results but a negative impact on law enforcement.
For you the normally law abiding United States citizen, what this means—and this is no exaggeration—is that if you get stopped for a minor traffic offense or other misdemeanor the local cop won’t be saying “license and registration, please,” he will be saying (indeed he will be required to say) something like “show me your papers.” And if you don’t have them you could wind up spending time behind bars.
At this point, maybe you’re one of those people thinking, “Not me! (I’m white.)”
And that’s the not so subtle subtext here that reassures Trump’s core supporters: If you’re a middle aged working class white guy, hey, nobody’s going to question your American-ness, so there’s no need to carry a federal ID.
But even the most reactionary federal judges in the United States would not let that affront to the Constitution slide by. “Equal protection under the law” has to mean equal protection. And without a proof-of-citizenship ID that everyone equally would have to show, “You would have to engage in racial profiling,” says Scott H. Decker, a professor of criminology at Arizona State University and co-author of Policing Immigrants. “It couldn’t be done otherwise.”
So, whatever Trump’s intentions, if he is serious about building his wall and deporting 11 million people or, as he sometimes suggests, 30 million people, which would be approaching 10 percent of the population, a national ID card will have to be part of the picture. As an old ad campaign used to say, “Don’t leave home without it.”