Attacks against Immigrants attacks Black America

By Eric K. Ward

I’m African-American and my family moved to California almost a hundred years ago after a lynching took place outside their hometown in Kentucky.

I’m also undocumented, or in the current anti-immigrant vernacular, “illegal.” I don’t have the necessary documents to prove my identity. Therefore, within four years, I won’t be able to vote, have access to social services, or receive state identification to travel.

Let’s start from the beginning:

In May 2006, I lost my passport and Social Security card at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (I don’t have a driver’s license because of a visual disability). When I went home to Chicago, I learned that in order to receive a state identification card, I needed to obtain a certified copy of my birth certificate, which allows me to apply for a Social Security Card to replace my passport.

Later in the week I contacted the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder and was told that in order to receive my birth certificate, I needed to present a copy of my passport, or driver’s license, to verify I was, in actuality, Eric K. Ward.

Since it was obvious, after twenty minutes of discussion, that I didn’t own a driver’s license, a passport, or a social security card, they told me to fill out the proper forms in front of a notary public in Chicago. I quickly opened the phone book and had a co-worker drive me to a notary public. But when I got there, the notary public said I needed a passport, social security card, or driver’s license to receive an official notary seal.

Lucky for me (when I’m in a pinch) I can become very persuasive. And since I had a number of newspaper articles with photos documenting my identity, the notary public accepted my articles with somewhat dubious satisfaction. Next, before anyone could change their minds, I walked next door to the Post Office and happily mailed my documents to the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder and went on with my life.

Four weeks later my birth certificate arrived!

But when I arrived at the Post Office to pick it up, the attendant asked me to produce a passport, driver’s license and, most ironically, a copy of my birth certificate to obtain my birth certificate. After waiting an hour and pleading with two supervisors, I‘m proud to say that I now possess a certified birth certificate!

I wish I could say everything went smoothly from this point on, but the adventure only began and came to a screeching halt within a week.

A few days later I headed to the Social Security Administration to obtain a replacement social security card. But when I got there, the Social Security Administration said I needed more than just a copy of my birth certificate. They said I also needed a passport, driver’s license, or state identification card to prove my identity.

But since I went to the Social Security Administration to obtain a new copy of my social security card so I could get a new passport, the Social Security Administration didn’t know what to do with me. So, they told me to head across town to the Illinois Secretary of State’s office to get my social security card. But when I arrived, the Illinois Secretary of State’s office said I needed my social security card to obtain any official document to prove my identity.

Now I’m stuck in a Catch-22 and I’m not alone in this predicament. Almost nine percent of African Americans (18 or older) are unable to document their citizenship. * Roughly 2 million African Americans, eleven million native born citizens, and nearly twice as many low income Americans than citizens with higher incomes don’t have a social security card, driver’s licenses, passport, birth certificate or proof of naturalization. *

In 1950, Sam Shapiro, now Emeritus Professor of Health Policy and Management at the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health, conducted a case study for the journal Population Studies, and also found that, due to segregation barring black children from being born in white hospitals, one-fifth of African Americans born between 1939-40 were never issued birth certificates.

When you correlate Shapiro’s figures to the 2000 US Census Data on African American Population by Age, Shapiro’s figures show that by 2010, nearly half-a-million elderly African Americans born before 1941 may loose their right to vote and access to federal services. Remember, this is only for African Americans born before 1941!

Most recently, Tim Vercelloti, a professor at Rutgers University, found that 5.7% of African Americans are less likely to vote in states that require voter identification. And let’s not forget, voting is a right African Americans struggled to secure for all American citizens.

If U. S citizens don’t have the “required” documents to prove their identity, an increasingly large portion of U.S. citizens will be denied access to social services and the right to vote at the federal, state, and local level.

For example, in 2006, officials in Maricopa County, Arizona denied almost 5,000 US citizens the right to vote because they didn’t have the “required” documents. In 2005, The Draft Reduction Act denied anyone re-applying for Medicaid who didn’t posses the same “required” documents. And by 2010, the Federal Election Integrity Act (passed in 2006) will deny all American citizens the right to vote if they’re can’t produce the “required” documents.

What are the “required” documents? You guessed it: a passport, birth certificate or proof of naturalization.

Why is this happening?

Strict ID requirements that target immigrant and refugee communities also target African Americans, poor, and elderly communities. Federal, state, and local laws that attack undocumented immigrants and refugees threaten Americans’ voting rights, the right to travel without fear of imprisonment, and access to social services.

Anti-immigrant activists say strict ID requirements are a necessary burden that folks should be happy to shoulder in the fight against “illegal” immigration. But that’s pretty easy to say when you’re not African American, poor, or a member of the elderly community.

As African Americans we should be deeply concerned about the ongoing attack on immigrants and refugees. Why?

We know what it’s like to be second-class citizens---and it’s about to happen again.


Anonymous said...

"Why do I need i.d. to get i.d.? If I had i.d., I wouldn't need i.d." Common featuring Mos Def, "The Questions," Like Water for Chocolate

This is such a powerful article, great way of showing the interconnections between these issues. Clearly we as black and brown people, need to stand in solidarity with all oppressed peoples, but as you said, as second class citizens, too often it's our own selves we're standing in solidarity with, whether we know it or not.

Anonymous said...

This is a symptom of a bureaucracy created within the system. Try changing the address with the Social Security Administration for your non-English speaking parents!

Anonymous said...

Have you contacted your Senator/Congressman/local newspaper for assistance? This sounds like a good local TV news story...

Barry Deutsch said...

Are there footnotes missing for the paragraph beginning "Now I’m stuck in a Catch-22..."? It looks like you intended to put in footnotes for that paragraph (because of the asterisks following a couple of the sentences).

Anyhow, great article.

Anonymous said...

did you report the loss of your original docs to the police?

Eric Ward said...

Hi everyone and thanks for all of the amazing feedback. To answer a couple of questions. Yes I did notify the police and file a report when my passport was lost at the airport. I also thought about making it a bigger news story but really wanted to get an ideal of what it would take for a person who doesn't have access to privilege and power to become a documented citizen again. In regard to the footnote . . . I think that might be a typo. Probably one too many Martinis when I should have been editing the article instead.

mh said...

Wow. This could happen to anyone, couldn't it? I thought I was pretty familiar with the issues here, but you really knocked my socks off. I do hope that you succeed in getting yourself documented again at some point.

Eric Ward said...

Thanks for your comment MH!

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities 11 million native-born citizens currently lack the required documents.

Two years ago a state politician in Colorado who helped passed so-called "proof of citizenship" in state ironically found himself in a situation where his own daughter couldn't get a driver's license because of his deeds.

I did eventually recover my ID and how it occurred is even more ironic and shows that much of these laws that are allegedly being passed to "control immigration" and strengthen "national security" serve no other purpose than to score political points with national anti-immigrant groups with ties to political extremists, including white nationalists organizations.

If enough folks are truly interested let me know on the comment section and I will do a follow up in August. I have to warn you though . . . it may keep you up at night.

Niki said...

Try to get a high school transcript. That MIGHT work at the social security office.

If the staff feels like being helpful.

jessica said...

I want you to know that your congressperson WILL assist you in getting this straightened out. They have helped me out with passport shenanigans many times before, including when i was accused of passport fraud. They are really helpful. Give it a try! You'd be surprised what a faxed letter from a congresspersons office can do.

Eric Ward said...

Hi Niki,

Thanks for writing. You would think that a high school transcript would suffice but no luck. In fact, the only three things that will suffice are a birth certificate, passport, or state driver's license and you need a combination of the above to satisfy the Social Security Administration. It is going to increasingly difficult for citizens to "prove their citizenship."

Also like Jessica suggested I did think about contacting my Congressman but I realized that most people don't have the same level of access that I do and I wanted to see just how difficult it would be.