What America is Michael Gerson living in? 

In the Washington Post, columnist and former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson pronounces the new Arizona immigration law "understandable -- and dreadful." Gerson says states do not have the authority "to take control of American immigration policy -- an authority that Arizona has seized in order to abuse." The effect of the new law, he argues, will be bad for everybody:

It makes it harder for illegal immigrants to live without scrutiny -- but it also makes it harder for some American citizens to live without suspicion and humiliation. Americans are not accustomed to the command "Your papers, please," however politely delivered. The distinctly American response to such a request would be "Go to hell," and then "See you in court."

Which leads to the question: What America is Gerson living in? No, we are not confronted by actors with heavy German accents demanding our papers. We are instead confronted routinely by people of all stripes asking to see our driver's license. When we board an airplane, we are asked to produce a government-issued photo ID, usually a driver's license. When we make some credit- or debit-card purchases in department stores, we are asked to produce a driver's license. When we enter many office buildings, both private and government, security guards often ask us to produce a driver's license. When we go to doctors' offices and hospitals, we are asked to produce a driver's license. When we check into hotels, we are asked to produce a driver's license. When we purchase some over-the-counter drugs, we are asked to produce a driver's license. If we go to a bar or nightclub, anyone who looks at all young is asked to produce a driver's license. And needless to say, if we have any encounter with police or other authorities, we are asked to produce a driver's license.

Some situations involve an even higher level of scrutiny. When we get a new job, we are asked to provide not a driver's license but a passport or birth certificate to prove citizenship. In other situations, too: When I renewed my District of Columbia driver's license last year, I had to produce a passport to prove citizenship, even though it was a valid, unexpired license I was renewing. And in many places, buying a gun -- a constitutionally-protected right -- involves enormous scrutiny.

Has Michael Gerson never experienced any of those situations? And by the way, has he read the Arizona law? Does he know that it specifically states that in any encounter with police, when a person produces a valid Arizona driver's license (or, for non-drivers, other forms of ID listed in the law), that person is immediately presumed to be in the United States legally? Given all the situations listed above, can anyone argue that being asked to produce a driver's license, if one is in some sort of encounter with police in which police are acting lawfully (that is also specified by the new law) is overly burdensome? Being asked to produce identification is a burden that falls on everyone.

That is simply a fact of life today. Many of the situations in which we are asked to produce ID are the result of laws passed by our representatives, Democrats and Republicans, that are, overall, good things. But they require Americans to produce their papers, in the form of a driver's license, quite frequently. If Americans responded with "Go to hell" and "See you in court" each time they were asked to produce their license, both hell and court would be very crowded.

P.S. -- All the discussion above relates to people who are American citizens. In addition to the situations requiring a driver's license, some people might not know that since the 1940s, federal law has required non-citizens who are in the United States permanently to carry on their person, at all times, the official documents proving that they are here legally -- green card, work visa, etc. That has been the law for 70 years, and the new Arizona law does not change it.

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Doug Graham

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