Longform

When It Comes to Identification, Prisoners Are Held in Higher Esteem Than Migrants

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Esther has three children in school, her 16-year-old son and 13-year-old twin girls. It saddens her with a mother's remorse that she cannot participate as a parent at school. The problem is, she does not have American identification, and the school will not accept her Mexican papers.

"I tried to volunteer in their classes, but in order to do that, I need identification. On field trips, I'd love to participate as a chaperone, but I can't because my papers are all Mexican," Esther says. "I couldn't even get the water and lights turned on in our home."

In the past, she has had someone else put the utilities in their name rather than hers.

"We can't even open a bank account because of the ID requirements."

Throughout greater Phoenix, there are hundreds of thousands of our neighbors -- estimates run as high as 180,000 -- who can't obtain American identification. You see them everywhere, and none of them is driving with an Arizona driver's license.

Migrants cannot obtain a driver's license.

An invisible lady, Juana Rincon, works in a small Mexican restaurant that serves the largest bowl of lamb soup north of the border. The shop sits humbly next door to a bowling alley.

Juana finds it is a very odd experience -- this being invisible. You have nothing to show who you are.

This is not a small thing.

In contrast, consider yourself: You have your driver's license, your birth certificate, your voter-registration card, your Social Security card, your credit cards, your business cards, your sneakers, and a certain street-cred kind of thread.

The world knows who you are.

The invisible lady does not stand out. Juana studied English for two weeks at a Phoenix library before she was noticed. Then, someone asked her to produce identification. When she could not, she was kicked out of the library.

Who gets kicked out of the library? Even the homeless can linger in the library.

No driver's license; don't pass go.

Juana does not have an Arizona driver's license.

What she has are the exquisite manners and the frail decency of a guest.

Juana was smuggled through Nogales on September 11, 2006. But she does not remember that date because it was the anniversary of the destruction of the World Trade Center; she remembers it because her smuggler tried to rape her on the Mexican side of the border.

Juana has paperwork from the Mexican consulate. The Phoenix library refused to recognize it.

Do you mean to tell me that we don't acknowledge the Mexican consulate?

Is this some sort of Protestant thing, like refusing to recognize the Virgin of Guadalupe? In fact, consulate papers are virtually worthless.

If, for example, a migrant needs a cop, she or he will be asked to produce a valid identification. Don't be pulling out no ragged consulate papers, because the next badge you speak to will be with the Border Patrol.

Juana was beaten by her husband. When he got done whipping her, he told her: I'll turn you in if you open your mouth.

Then he deserted her.

When she tried to renew the rental agreement on her apartment, she took along her brother to translate. Of course, the rental contract was in her departed husband's name.

The landlord asked her to produce state identification. When she couldn't, the landlord observed: "You don't exist in Arizona."

She was evicted.

It took her months to find a place because she lacked identification.

As she searched for a room, she could not stop thinking: "I'm going to be homeless . . . I'm going to be homeless!"

Eventually she located shelter; then her husband found her.

Of course, she never called the police when he, once again, attacked her.

Events escalated.

She tried to leave. She was taken by force to the house of the brother of her husband.

It is called kidnapping.

Witnesses called the police.

As a victim of domestic violence, she was not deported. But she had to find new housing.

Eventually, Juana located a sympathetic landlord who requested that she get a letter from her boss at the restaurant that detailed her pay and length of employment.

She has been at the restaurant for eight years. She's the invisible lady.

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Michael Lacey
Contact: Michael Lacey