Longform

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

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"To rediscover the human history from the point of view of the invisibles, trying to rediscover the terrestrial rainbow mutilated by racism and machismo and militarism and elitism . . . to speak about the nobodies from the nobodies' voices." -- Eduardo Galeano

There is a call for Phoenix City Hall to issue municipal identification. The ID would be accepted by law enforcement, by hospitals, by libraries, and hopefully by landlords. This simple measure is pushed by a coalition, with the Center for Neighborhood Leadership running point. The measure is scheduled to go before the City Council at the end of this month.

It is a step in the right direction. But a path to driver's licenses also is needed.

The majority of the City Council supports the measure. After all, young Mexican-Americans worked to get these politicians elected. Nonetheless, when Dreamers -- the young students who migrated across the border when their parents dragged them north -- and other advocates asked for city-issued identification, the elected officials on the counsel diverted them to gathering petitions.

The early message back was simple: Never mind the need; is it popular? Prove the popularity with signatures on a petition.

"The politicians wanted us to give them cover with petitions," says Joe Larios, with the Center For Neighborhood Leadership.

The petition idea was floated last summer.

"After we gathered thousands of signatures, the City Counsel dropped that request," Larios says. "In other American cities that issue such ID, approximately 10 percent of the population gets it."

That might represent as many as 600,000 people locally.

"We have various levels of support from all the City Council except for one person. We have no idea where he stands. In the beginning, the City Manager's Office was unresponsive. They didn't want to put something controversial in front of the counsel. But once we met with [City Manager] Ed Zuercher, he has been very helpful."

Identification isn't controversial; it's fundamental. We let prisoners know our esteem by issuing them numbers as ID. We give our soldiers dog tags. Not migrants.

We need to know who we are. Is there anything sadder than row after row of unmarked stones in a military cemetery?

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Michael Lacey
Contact: Michael Lacey