The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press has just released an appalling new survey that says that nearly three-quarters of Americans polled approve of a law requiring all Americans to carry documents showing that they are in the country legally. Two-thirds think the police should be allowed to detain anybody who does not have such a document on him or her.
Now I have to say that this requirement is something I’ve always thought of as characteristic of a police state. I don’t even have such a document, unless you count my certificate of live birth, and I normally keep that locked away safe somewhere. I sure as hell don’t carry it around with me. Is the government supposed to issue some sort of new universal ID card certifying to our citizenship? Or are we all supposed to get passports? Or what?
For no good reason I’m reminded of somebody’s—James Thurber’s maybe—description of a scene from a French novel set in the American Old West. The setting is a small town somewhere in the southwest. A stranger has arrived, and people are wondering who exactly the newcomer is. Some of the townsfolk are convinced that he’s the notorious Billy the Kid. The sheriff comes by, listens for a moment, and then says, “I’ll settle this.” He strolls over to the newcomer, and says to him, “Son, let me see your identity-card.”
The humor in this is that nothing of the sort could possibly occur on American soil. And yet, and yet, apparently damn near three-quarters of the American people now think these sorts of police powers are just dandy. The American Way incarnate. Prove that you’re a citizen on the sheriff’s demand, or spend the night in jail—or however long it takes till you can get a copy of your birth certificate mailed out to you.
Actually I don’t think appalling begins to cover it. What are we trading our rights for, here, exactly? What the hell are we so afraid of? I’m just asking—because I, for one, don’t see anything whatsoever to justify this level of response. As somebody-or-other is supposed to have once said, anybody who trades in his liberty for a little gilt-edged security deserves to be walled up in a dark cell with the rats and the spiders—or words to that effect. If America can’t do better than this, it doesn’t deserve to survive. And it probably won’t.
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