Graphic by MEREK ALAM
I carry my United States of America issued passport card with me at all times. It’s quite cute looks exactly as you would expect it to after some underpaid designer crammed a couple semi-transparent American icons together on a 2×3 inch card an called it a day. When I initially picked it up from the Detroit passport agency the kind woman behind the desk asked me if I had grown out my hair since taking the picture and I had to explain that it was simply tied back in the photo. My only aesthetic complaints about it is that my beard is too long and that I personally believe the background flag should have been flat and not waving in the wind.
The official functions of the card are borderline useless to me. You can use the passport card to drive into Canada and Mexico and get sea-port entry to the Caribbean and Bermuda. I don’t really find myself crossing our northern or southern border all that often and I’m not one for sailing. The real reason I hold on to the card is because of my immigrant mom, who is worried about her son being stopped by the police and detained by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (I.C.E.). She herself carries numerous documents in order to prove her legal residence and her parental relationship to my sibling and me.
The fear isn’t irrational, ICE constantly detains American citizens. I actually have it pretty good for a first-generation kid, I may be brown but I’m not an explicitly targeted ethnicity. Latino high school student Fransisco Erwin Galicia was stopped at an immigration checkpoint, and he too was prepared with a variety of legal documents including his Texas ID and a wallet-size birth certificate (which probably has even less official usage than my passport card), yet he was still detained by ICE for a month, losing 26 pounds in 23 days and not being allowed to shower. The typical advice to just “follow the law” and “come here legally” is moot when ICE arrests American-born people of color for kicks
Fransisco’s case isn’t unique and even the more infamous family separations are just the tip of the iceberg for the unaccountable agency. While the individual actors inside the system are responsible, it is increasingly clear that the true fault lies with the very system itself. ICE regularly engages in unconstitutional behavior, and the typical process that they rely on can be resisted by local and state governments (In January, the Whitmer administration did not respond when the Almanian asked if they would support similar steps in Michigan). In July, ProPublica reported on a secret Customs and Border Protection (C.B.P.) Facebook group contained roughly 9,500 agents who gathered to joke about migrant deaths and referred to immigrants as “tonks,” which is a reference to the sound a flashlight makes when it is used to bash an immigrant’s skull. The federal government has received more than 4,500 complaints of sexual abuse that have been committed against children in detention centers, which ranged from watching them shower, molestation, and rape. This past week, ICE was spotted in New York driving an armored vehicle to make a single arrest.
Neither I.C.E. nor C.B.P. is there to protect people, and they’re clearly not interested in enforcing the law. In reality both agencies operate as an occupying force designed for maximum terror and abuse. Most importantly: they’re beyond reform. ICE was only formed in 2003 under the Patriot Act and since they’ve enjoyed ample opportunity to spread fear under the Bush administration, caged children under the Obama administration, and now flagrantly break the law under the Trump administration. No matter if the person in the Oval Office is Republican or Democratic, the corrupt mandate of ICE and CBP grows larger and larger with each term. They simply can not be trusted any longer to continue to hold some much power under one roof. Last Thursday, Bernie Sanders became the only democratic candidate to call for the complete breakup of ICE and CBP, but even that isn’t enough. We’re beyond simply abolishing them, the leadership of both needs to be prosecuted on national television and individual agents who participated in misconduct need to be tried before a jury. These officials have degradingly used the flag of the American people to commit horrific abuses and now the American people must rise up and reclaim that flag from those that shield themselves with it.
The law is there to protect people. There are no longer any excuses to be made for institutions that abuse the law to dehumanize people or ignore the law entirely when it suits them. Every time I look at my passport card I get a little more angry knowing that millions of others in this country have to carry around a jumble of legal documents on the off-chance we get stopped by an unrestrained institution and have to appease verifiable psychopaths so they don’t detain us in squalid conditions. No more half-measures.