By Michael Lacey
Article published by Phoenix New Times, February 19th, 2015
Art by Eduardo Pym
Identification isn’t controversial; it’s fundamental. We let prisoners know our esteem by issuing them numbers as ID. Migrants be damned.
Esther Escalante has the chaste presence of a church lady, which, in fact, she is. Her husband is pastor at Phoenix Tabernacle in South Phoenix.
The Tabernacle is a Pentecostal church that mixes hellfire with live music (including an accordian played in a way that would have terrified Lawrence Welk). The congregants carry Bibles and tambourines, and when the minister sings “I’ll Fly Away,” 600 voices join in jubilee.
The Sunday preaching goes on from 9 until 11:15 a.m., at which point the minister begins a laying-on of hands to literally drive out demons possessing dozens of members of the church. One recent Sunday, the preacher asked God’s help in returning Hector’s stolen car.
The churchgoers, as well as Esther and her husband, are mostly migrants. 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 landlord asked her to produce state identification. When she couldn’t, the landlord observed: “You don’t exist in Arizona.”
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.
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?
Eduardo Pym and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day . . . After a Very Bad Day.
Born in Puebla, Mexico, Eduardo obviously has no American birth certificate. Brought here when he was 1, he attended P.T. Coe Elementary School, Pueblo Middle School, and Metro Tech High School, where he studied drafting and discovered that he was an artist.
What he didn’t know was that he was undocumented. His mom didn’t tell him until he was 18. By then, he was trying to bring in a few bucks with his artistic chops.
He was painting the hood of a car but needed clear coat and went to Auto Zone to get it. Because the liquid is also huffed by kids looking to get high, you have to sign for it and produce identification.
“I carried my high school transcript around with me. It had my photo and birthdate. But no one would accept it, ” Eduardo says. “I was told: ‘We can’t take school ID.'”
Lacquer was the least of his issues.
“In December 2013, I got a scholarship check, but it was so difficult to cash it without proper identification.”
Finding someone to cash his scholarship check became a nightmare. “I missed signup for the class. I had to wait a semester to take graphic design at Phoenix College.”
Many of the obstacles are more mundane.
“My friends invite me to bars. The other day, I was at First Friday. I waited in line to get into Lost Leaf. [The bar] wouldn’t let me in. Same thing with movies. I went to see an exorcism movie. It’s R-rated, but I’m 22. Couldn’t get in. Same thing at the FilmBar.”
Ana Tijoux is a French-Chilean rapper. Her dissident parents were arrested by Augusto Pinochet, and when they were released they fled to France. Tijoux’s lyrics are devoid of machismo and violence.
For me, my search wasn’t a matter of scene
It was something necessary that already marked my failure
So everything more than necessary was when I understood
That everyone wants to be a pirate.
You can hear her music on Breaking Bad. When she appeared last October at Crescent Ballroom, Eduardo tried to get in. Of course, he couldn’t because he doesn’t have an Arizona driver’s license. Because he doesn’t have an American birth certificate, he can’t get an Arizona driver’s license. But he drives.
In February 2014, he dropped off a friend at 39th Avenue and Encanto Boulevard when a policeman pulled him over. “He asked if I had any weapons in the car as I gave him my insurance and registration. Lacking a driver’s license, I gave him my high school transcript and my school ID. He asked again if I had a weapon, and did I mind if he searched my car. He told me I was doing 21 in a 25 [mile per hour zone]. He instructed me to get out of the car. Then he started searching.”
Because Eduardo still is a kid, because he’s worked on political campaigns, because he is an artist, his sense of being bulletproof is real enough. So, naturally, he began recording the incident on his cell phone.
Eduardo promptly was arrested for failure to provide identification. He spent 18 hours in jail. When he got out, he tried to get his cell phone back from the police. The police informed him that he would need identification to get his phone back. And, no, as a matter of fact, they would not accept his school ID or his school transcript.
Gabriela Diaz is at the opposite end of the migrant struggle from Juana. She is a landlord, albeit one with a five-foot statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe in her living room.
“It is very difficult for people without identification to rent a home because they have to sign a lease which has to be notarized, and a notary won’t put a stamp on it without proper Arizona identification,” Diaz says. “We have many, many migrants in this neighborhood, but they don’t have papers.”
The identification issue seeps into her life in more ways than the rent.
“I have a lot of family without ID. When someone asks for ID and you don’t have it, you feel shame.”
You can also feel danger. Diaz’s daughter goes to a high school where many of the girls are in gangs. The bangers were going to beat her daughter. So she called the police.
“The officers asked for my identification. Why do they need my identification? That’s why people are afraid to call the police. I had to get a restraining order, and I needed to show Arizona identification to protect my daughter. These girls going after my daughter are not going down the right path.”
Why do we do this to our neighbors? Why do we do this to migrants? Because we are vicious.
We have an estimated 70,000 young people in Arizona who were brought here as infants, toddlers, and children by their migrant parents. They are innocent of any wrongdoing. In fact, the federal government initiated a program, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, to allow these children to stay in America.
Those qualified for DACA are the positive face of migration and have the impossibly cute nickname: Dreamers.
When she was Secretary of Homeland Security, former Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano issued a memorandum stating that the country’s immigration laws were not written “to remove productive young people to countries where they may not have lived or even speak the language.”
This wasn’t good enough in Arizona. Former Governor Jan Brewer attempted to prevent the Dreamers from getting Arizona driver’s licenses with an executive order. On August 15, 2012, the same day the federal DACA program went into effect, Brewer ordered state agencies to prevent these kids from getting any form of state identification. In particular, they were not to be allowed to get driver’s licenses.
The governor’s suit specifically singled out Dreamers. Then she added migrants who were victims of domestic violence. Battered Mexican woman would be denied driver’s licenses.
A federal district court and eventually the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Brewer’s action.
New Governor Doug Ducey agrees with Brewer, and Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich will determine whether the case is appealed. The right to drive lawfully in Phoenix and in Arizona literally is a matter of life and death. We don’t have mass transit in any meaningful way.
“As a practical matter, the ability to drive may be a virtual necessity for people who want to work in Arizona. The record shows that more that 87 percent of Arizona’s workforce commutes to work by car. By contrast, only about 2 percent of Arizonans commute to work using public transportation,” wrote the court.
The courts found that the governor did this “for no rational reason.”
It was nastiness, pure and simple. Brewer did it because she’s a bitch.