I've been watching with a certain interest the brewing debate over the proposal that Durham accept matricula consular document as a form of identification for Mexican nationals, a subject that'll be front and center on the City Council business agenda tonight.
The debate has played out in the public sphere exactly as you would expect, in our current messed-up political haze. With hyperbole, that is, and plenty of email circulars and blog-blasts.
Not, mind you, that Durham would be the very first city anywhere, anytime, to accept these documents, as some have suggested. For years, cities like Denver, Phoenix, San Francisco and Dallas (and more than 1,200 police departments) have accepted the cards, created by the Mexican consulate as a form of identity for their country's nationals living and working outside the US.
And it's accepted by the IRS for issuing individual taxpayer identification numbers (ITINs), not to mention schools (for enrollment purposes) and banks and credit unions. Heck, Carrboro passed a resolution similar to Durham's in 2002.
Of course, the whole matter has become a firestorm of controversy in today's political climate, where immigration is a hot-button issue for a newly enlivened right -- and an issue that draws sympathetic ears from those looking to understand the middle class' economic malaise.
Tonight's City Council discussion of the matter is likely to see a high level of interest from those on both sides of the issue, as well as from those from many different parts of North Carolina, as for one night at least Durham will become a battleground on immigration.
That doesn't seem to be why Durham leaders brought the idea up in the first place, mind you. And it's the disconnect between the reality and the politics of this situation that is so, frankly, depressing.
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To understand the debate, we need to talk about exactly what a matricula consular is. But first, let's talk for a moment about what any ID card is and is not.
In the world of information technology where I earn my living, there's a long-held and deep seated understanding that in the realm of what's called "identity management," there are two very separate and distinct concepts: authentication and authorization, sometimes referred to as authN and authZ.
Authentication is simply a matter of asserting who you are with credentials that can be trusted, while authorization is a trusted record of what resources, services, access or whathaveyou that someone is entitled to receive.
SImply put: a government-issued photo ID card tells people who you are. It doesn't tell people what you're entitled to.
A driver's license, for instance, is a record you can use to identify or authenticate yourself. And it also authorizes you to drive a car -- but that's it.
Your NC driver's license is not proof of citizenship, for instance; that's what a passport is for.
Similarly, your license can be used by airport screeners to authenticate who you are and decide to let you through the security checkpoint. But are you allowed to fly or not? That authorization happens on the back-end, with databases screening your name, DOB and other variables against the no-fly list.
Your authentication gets you access to a public space, with the government asserting they trust that they know who you are. But if you're on the no-fly list, expect to get held up at screening or the gate as the government tries to decide if you should be authorized to board the plane.
In that vein, the matricula consular is strictly an authentication document, with the government of Mexico asserting that you are the person you say you are.
It doesn't authorize you to drive an automobile. It doesn't authorize you to collect government benefits. It doesn't authorize you to hold a job.
It does help you to open a bank account, but only inasmuch as financial institutions are really concerned with making sure they know who has access or ownership over funds, for reasons ranging from tax compliance to money laundering.
And the City Attorney's office says inasmuch the same thing in their background memo on the matricula consular matter, which originated with citizen groups:
After substantial consideration of the resolution and consultation with the Durham Police Department, this office is of the opinion that the attached resolution simply acknowledges, without codification, the present procedures of the Durham Police Department as it relates to personal identification and in particular the consideration of a valid Matricula Consular. The resolution as written does not give a valid Matricula Consular a status equal to a valid North Carolina driver’s license nor will it prevent the lawful arrest of an individual under circumstances in which an arrest is appropriate. It simply acknowledges a valid Matricula Consular as a document that will suffice to identify an individual in a situation where an individual’s identity becomes relevant. The operations of the Durham Police Department will not be impacted by the presence or acceptance of a valid Matricula Consular for the limited purposes of personal identification. Furthermore, the discretion of the officer to make an arrest under appropriate circumstances is in no way impeded by the presence of a valid Matricula Consular.
From strictly this perspective, this doesn't seem that controversial.
After all, Durham has in recent years seen a rash of crime targeting presumed undocumented immigrants, whose believed propensity to carry around cash rather than using local banks has been asserted by the Durham P.D. to make them targets for robberies.
And police are often stymied when trying to identify just who a non-citizen is, whether in the investigation of a crime or during a traffic stop.
Of course, a matricula wouldn't convey driving privileges; but it's reasonable to see the benefit to the DPD by their use of the document to at least have a firm sense of the identity of the person before them.
And that's exactly what pro-immigrant groups are asking for here, since driver's licenses now require a Social Security Number, with the ITIN previously used by many immigrants to get licenses no longer accepted in the state for driver's licenses.
That opens illegal immigrants to arrest if found driving with neither a license nor a form of identification; with a resolution supporting the matricula consular as a form of legal identification, officers could still choose to arrest but would also have the door open to merely citing the person for driving without a license.
And the Durham P.D. has already been accepting matricula consular documents for this very purpose; this resolution simply makes that the official position of the city.
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To those opposed to the presence of immigrants from Mexico living and working in the US without going through legal channels, though, it represents another crack in the armor of what they perceive as citizens' rights and liberties.
A web site called NC Freedom -- "providing news and opinion for North Carolina Patriots," the masthead says -- republished a conservative's broadside against the measure, one that uses militaristic terms to describe the debate.
Troops were dispatched on 02 Nov 2010 to assess damage in Washington D.C. with the mission being counter insurgency and overthrow of the current socialist regime.
The North Carolina capital city of Raleigh fell in 2008 when Real ID was repudiated by the North Carolina House (HB 2136). Enemy infiltrators posing as Democrat legislators ignored a bill that would have prohibited the use of Mexican consular cards to obtain or renew a driver’s license (HB 1399). With this accomplishment, the socialist progressive mission to occupy and control North Carolina citizens advanced into the voting booth of each and every district in North Carolina.
Raleigh has been under enemy occupation for a century. The Mexican Embassy Consulate set up headquarters at East 6 Forks Road Raleigh and has established over 80 documented statewide reconnaissance teams. Several local to Wake County are known as El Centro Hispano, Durham Bill of Rights Defense committee, and Durham Immigration Solidarity Committee. These teams are assisted by progressive infantry from the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), AmeriCorps, La Raza, ACORN and other insurgents.
(Remember what we said about hyperbole here? Y-e-a-h.)
Conservatives in the Durham theater of operation are currently under siege. The Durham police department has surrendered according to Deputy Police Chief Steve Mihaich. He reported the Durham Police Department accepts the [Mexican] Matricula Consular as it would “any other out of state identification.”
The enemy is currently surrounding the Durham City Council. The radical insurgent troop divisions launching pro-illegal immigration artillery have been identified as Durham Bill of Rights Defense committee, Durham Immigration Solidarity Committee, and El Centro Hispano. At least one city government infiltrator has been identified by the Durham News as Councilwoman Diane Cabotti. Her insider position is leading the charge of the El Centro Hispano. Heavy fire is anticipated on 15 Nov 2010 at 1900 hours as council members convene to surrender to insurgents demand for statutory use of enemy consular cards by Durham city agencies.
OK, let's be real. "The enemy" is currently "surrounding" the City Council?
We have a duly elected official as an "infiltrator?"
The police department has "surrendered?"
Surrendered against what? The DPD is following its mandate, to preserve law and order in the community and ensure the safety of citizens.
Immigration enforcement isn't part of that mandate. That's a federal responsibility.
Persons arrested for violent crimes or drug infractions? Well, Durham law enforcement officials work with a federal program to screen persons so arrested for immigration violations, and to work to handover such persons to federal officials in order to begin deportation procedures as needed.
Which is, it seems, exactly what their role should be.
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Mind you, this isn't the first time that immigration has come up as an attempt to hit a political home run in the Bull City.
And one only needs to look back to 2007 to see how the debate went the last time that illegal immigration came up as a topic, when then-Council member Thomas Stith -- long-linked to the Art Pope foundation wing of conservatives in North Carolina -- tried to make it a campaign issue in his mayoral run.
Robocalls allegedly from the Stith campaign haranguing Durham for a 2003 resolution he claimed made Durham a "sanctuary city" for immigrants, despite Stith himself having seconded the motion that he was suddenly criticizing.
At the end of the day, developer-backed Stith spent an enormous six-figure sum on his way to a drubbing by Bill Bell in the mayor's race, and faced an uproar at a Council meeting in the form of citizens largely opposed to his politicking on the point.
And we're not sure that much has changed in the city on the point since then.
Of course, none of this is to say that plenty of Durhamites aren't opposed to the measure. But certainly the numbers on this one are a bit fascinating.
As of 3pm on Saturday, one Council member tells BCR, emails coming in to Council inboxes were exactly spilt -- 126 for, 126 against.
Of those in favor of the resolution, 75 were Durham residents. Among those opposed to the resolution, 41 are Durhamites, and 85 aren't.
That's a 65%-35% ratio in favor among local residents, by this very unscientific polling.
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All of which goes to support the theory that what we're seeing here is another case of a Durham issue becoming a rallying point for a state-wide or national issue, not a really local one.
Opponents of immigration reform like those who wrote the faux-military treatise above aren't looking for grey areas or nuances. As the debate over immigration in Arizona showed, I suspect they'd love for cities like Durham to be using police forces to directly crack down on illegal immigrants and using all powers possible to find and arrest such persons simply for being in the country illegally.
Such is the rhetoric that surrounds discussions around trying to get county sheriffs to sign-on to being so-called "Oath Keepers," vowing to protect the Constitution by any means necessary and to disregard "unconstitutional" orders from the federal or state governments. (Talk to me later about the irony of people sworn to the idea of the Constitution deciding to usurp for themselves the role of the Supreme Court, but anyway.)
Yet in their anger, these advocates miss the larger point: most people in communities like Durham want the police to keep the community safe.
And safety isn't advanced by launching some local crackdown on immigration, such that those who are here illegally have to go underground and, perversely, become more likely to commit "hard" crimes -- robberies, thefts, etc. -- just to make it here.
I could be wrong, but I doubt most Durhamites really want our police going around busting in on residences to arrest illegal immigrants. Whether you like immigration or not, we're not made safer by local governments taking matters into their own hands.
We're made safer by reaching a national consensus on immigration -- something that the rhetoric over "illegals" makes nearly impossible.
Fixing that problem seems to me to be a national problem.
Accepting a form of identity so we know who's actually living here, whether they're authorized or not?
That seems like a very local decision, and appropriately so.