|Date: Sat, 3 Jul 2004 21:51:55 -0400
From: Jose G. Perez
John Kerry's slap in the face of the Latino community by coming
out against state laws that allow anyone to get a driver's license
regardless of immigration status should not surprise anyone. Kerry was
one of the backers of the 1996 Immigration Reform Act that imposed this
discrimination against undocumented immigrants in the issuing of
driver's licenses on state governments in the first place.
Until very recently, virtually no state mixed immigration
matters with driver's licenses. That is because under the Constitution,
immigration is an issue under the exclusive jurisdiction of the federal
government, and the courts have been quite clear in saying that states
may not, of their own initiative, do ANYTHING in relation to
immigration. That is unconstitutional meddling in the federal
In the 1990's as part of the Proposition 187 Republican
anti-immigrant campaign, California passed restrictive legislation.
Then in 1996 came the Clinton Immigration Reform Act and the
companion welfare reform, which cut off even "legal" immigrant access to
many social programs. Essentially it was the spirit of the California
Republican anti-immigrant initiatives rewritten as a federal law -- by
Among other things, the Democrats snuck into the Immigration
bill measures to transform state-issued drivers licenses into a national
ID card/internal passport.
The way it was instrumented was a) requiring fingerprinting and
b) requiring a verified social security number to get drivers licenses.
Notice I singled out the Democrats. That's because
implementation of this aspect of the law was opposed by the Gingrich
faction of the Republicans, who eventually realized that they had
approved a law creating an internal passport system, which they oppose.
They attached riders to appropriation bills specifically prohibiting the
federal government from spending any money to implement the national ID
card aspect of the immigration reform. And they promised they would
repeal this aspect of the law.
However, then Clinton got caught with Lewinsky and the
Republicans forgot all about the issue.
We should remember that under the Clinton regime, undocumented
immigration was not a major issue in Washington. The Reagan-era amnesty
had just been implemented, and the problem was assumed to be mainly one
of the Central American refugees and migrant agricultural workers from
Mexico, a couple of million people, give or take.
So those 1996 mandates went into effect on Oct. 1, 2000. And as
states brought their laws into compliance with the federal mandate, the
shit hit the fan.
That's because the undocumented immigrant population wasn't just
one or two million Mexican migrant workers plus some Central American
refugees, but a settled population that today numbers 10 to 15 million
people, and very much intimately interpenetrated with an equally huge
official migration coming from Mexico and other Latin American
countries. Moreover, the immigration is very heavily concentrated in
just a few states in the "sunbelt."
And the results of the 2000 census, which showed the population
was several *million* people larger than had been estimated by the
Census Bureau, even without compensating for the inevitable undercount
of those branded "illegal" by the state, made this reality very
difficult to ignore.
One of the main factors pushing this migration has been the
devastation of the Mexican peasantry by U.S. agribusiness. The
vendepatria governments of the PRI and the PAN have allowed the
unrestricted import of U.S. corn and other agricultural products without
doing anything about the monstrous U.S. agribusiness subsidies, export
supports and other programs. This policy has been the ruin of the small
farmer in Mexico, and unleashed the huge wave of migration to the United
States that began in the mid-1990's, and which even the three years of
the Bush recession appear to have done nothing to blunt.
As states have imposed these drivers licenses restrictions, the
resentment and outrage of the Latino community has grown. It has become
an issue like "the back of the bus" was for Blacks in the 1950's, a
symbol of all the privations and indignities Latinos --especially
immigrants-- are made to suffer.
And it comes on top of a whole series of attacks and usurpations
launched by the Clinton Administration, and which have been redoubled
since September 11.
The frustration in the Latino community over this issue cannot
be overstated. The lack of a drivers license is used to single out
Latinos for discriminatory and humiliating treatment in all fields. Even
something as simple as a 25-year-old buying a beer at some bar or
convenience store can become a hassle. And common workarounds to the
lack of a social security number -- use of the drivers license number
instead -- have been disrupted.
What Anglos -- and even many Afro-Americans -- consider just a
bureaucratic nuisance, like signing up for phone service, a cell phone,
or electrical service, become nightmares for the underclass of
undocumented migrants. And capitalist vultures step in to rip off such
In the Atlanta area, there is a little boomlet in
non-traditional phone companies. But it's not people competing on price
and features with the traditional monopoly, Southern Bell/BellSouth.
It's people selling the exact same service Bell South offers for 50%
more, paid in advance, with only this one difference: "no credit check."
And, of course, the government is getting into the act. Some
counties in Georgia have jacked up the fine for failure to have a
drivers license to as much as $700, and at least one county has become a
no-go area for Hispanics. Anyone who looks Hispanic WILL be stopped by
Banks are also profiteering. An Anglo bank using a DBA mechanism
has rechristened some Atlanta area branches El Banco de la Comunidad
("the bank of the community" in Spanish) and it is offering mortgages to
immigrants at interest rates of over 10 percent. Things are so farkled
that immigrants are grateful for the offer to these usurers in brown
State legislatures are tripping over themselves to pass laws
barring undocumented immigrants from state colleges and universities,
and the "liberals" instead propose to charge the few who may be able to
afford it out-of-state tuition rates.
The gavachos who are doing this have sown the wind, and they
*WILL* reap the whirlwind.
Latinos make up 7% of the U.S. adult population, but are 21% of
those under five. Georgia already has one county that is believed to
have "tipped" and become majority Latino; this is going to become an
increasingly common phenomenon all over the South and Southwest.
And here is the catch: many if not most of those Latinos are
going to be immigrants without the right to vote. So you will have
essentially Anglo minority regimes lording it over disenfranchised
Latino majorities. If you want to find out how viable such political
arrangements are over time, look up the name "Rhodesia" in a history
What is being institutionalized, and this is going on TODAY, is
a system of legal, de-jure discrimination, Jim Crow and Apartheid all
And the response will be as Malcolm X said in 1964: the ballot
or the bullet. The ballot for EVERYONE. And once the Latino community
takes up this demand, the results will be explosive.
The immigration and job, housing and other discrimination
patterns are such that Latinos --especially the new immigrants-- tend to
On average, people become citizens after being in the United
States two decades. I believe the Latino communities will explode long
before most people become citizens.
For one thing, becoming a citizen now costs thousands of
dollars. You've got to get legalized first. And then you have to pay
hundreds of dollars in fees to apply, to get photographed and
fingerprinted, to get photographed and fingerprinted again because the
regulations require pictures take within so much time and it takes la
migra longer than that to process the application. You need a lawyer
because the regulations are now so complex that regular people can't
navigate them without one. Two decades is the average looking back.
Looking forward, it is anyone's guess.
If the Latino communities do explode, a big part of the reason
will be scams like the one being pulled off right now by both the
Democrats and Republicans. If you got to the state government, they will
tell you there's nothing they can do, the drivers license thing is a
But if you go to Bush (and now Kerry's press office has issued a
statement along the same lines, in effect retracting his real position),
they will tell you it is a state matter. Federalism and all that.
And if you go to community meetings, as I do, you will see the
most humble of the humble, as we say in Spanish, a Mexican peasant, his
hat in hand as a symbol of deference, telling anyone who will listen
that his 18-year-old son is a good boy and doesn't have a driver's
license because they won't give it to him and can someone please help
him get his son out of jail.
And one day the response at that meeting will be to free the
youngster, not by petitioning or hiring lawyers, but by direct action.
And then there will be hell to pay.