A Tale of Bureaucratic Horror and Homeland Security

If you haven’t dealt with the government recently then you don’t know that “All that changed after 9-1-1” is a very common phrase, indeed, used to excuse all sorts of abuse, rigmarole, and just flat hassling US citizens.  New policies are indicative of what happens in police states and they are in force right now.

Guard your documents with your lives, citizens.  You won’t believe what you are in for if your driver’s license can’t be renewed and you don’t have at least a passport and a certified copy of your birth certificate, to say nothing of what happens if you lose your blue Social Security card or the dog eats it.

A flood and a tornado left me without a renewable driver’s license, with an expired military ID card, and with no passport.  It took three solid years to establish my identity to the satisfaction of various minions of government, and it also took some fancy footwork to get three people to break the rules on my behalf or I would still be a stateless person.  I doubt that many could manage it now; Homeland Security has had another six months to clamp down further on those who issue documents and I can be very persuasive and persistent.

First task: get a new birth certificate.  You can’t do that unless you have a notarized document requesting one.  A notary  won’t sign without proof of your identity.  Checkbooks don’t count, and neither does your Sam’s card.  I negotiated that hurdle, never mind how, and it took seven months for the State of California to send me a new birth certificate.  Their view?  “That’s the standard waiting period.  Be glad you don’t want a copy of a divorce decree because the wait for that is a minimum of two years!”

Pristine new certificate in hand, I discovered you can’t get a DL now without two forms of official photo ID and an SS card.  You can’t get a state ID card without two forms of official photo ID.  You can’t get a passport without two forms of official photo ID.  You can’t even open a bank account without two official forms of ID!   (Six months ago a major bank refused flatly even with the inducement of a deposit in the mid six figures.  I did it in a very small town, but they were very grateful when I got back eventually with the right papers.)  You can’t even cash a check at your bank without ID…when everyone from the manager down knows you personally!

I consulted both US Senators and a raft of US Representatives, asking what they had done for survivors of Katrina who just might not have escaped with all pertinent documents.  The answer was a horrifying “There was nothing we could do for them.”  Well, that’s just terrific.  Are they still running around stateless persons?  Did they give up and get arrested hoping that a rap sheet counts?  Sneak across the border and then ooze back in and be illegal aliens who don’t need such niceties as DL, SS cards, birth certificates and passports?  I considered both of those!

The Social Security card Mr. Roosevelt assured everyone would never be used for identification?  Hah.  It may not be ID but you have to have it anyway everywhere you go.  To get a new one of those you must send the originals of all those papers you guard with your life, and, generally–eventually–the SS administration sends you a new card and returns all of those papers you can’t exist without.  Fortunately, I still had mine.  The kicker is, it HAD to be shown at every stop, but it didn’t count as “ID.”  A photocopy of my passport didn’t, either.  You can register to be a voter if you can prove you paid property taxes (money they will take from undocumented people), but that doesn’t count as “ID.”  Neither does receiving SS or paying income tax.

Back to a tiny, tiny town, where I manage to talk the one-man DL and ID office into issuing me a State ID card on the strength of my birth certificate, my SS card, and one other document.  As absurd as this is, the demand was that I go get a car registered and insured and return with proof of insurance from the courthouse!  May I take the test and prove I can drive, now?  Well, no.  Not even with a photo Texas ID, a birth certificate, a registered, insured car, a recently-expired military ID card, and the sacred SS card.

So we trudge off to the closest (not very) military base, where Homeland Security now guards the gates instead of sentries and they immediately confiscated my ID card!  I have never felt so violated and offended in my life.  Talk about Nazi Germany.  If I were the terrorist…Mississippi, I think it is?…would stigmatize me as because I read Newt Gingrich, own Tom Clancy novels, have listened to Rush Limbaugh (I’m not making this up, you know), and have a bumper sticker on my refrigerator that says “an armed society is a polite society,” I might well have thought wistfully of shooting out their stop lights, had I been carrying.  (My concealed carry permit didn’t count as ID because it doesn’t have a photo.)  How dare those people confiscate an expired document that was mine?  Because they were armed, that’s why, and I couldn’t get on base without them raising the barrier.  What are civilians doing guarding a major military installation?  Making life difficult for citizens, for one.  I didn’t even have the option of taking my card and leaving!  Men with hands on guns were insistent and their 9 millimeter arguments compelling.

At the ID section I handed over the paper saying Homeland Security had my old ID card, and my other tatty documents…and a very apologetic young woman said she couldn’t get into DEERS (the system that has all my info in it, photos, fingerprints, and all.)  I smiled, and asked to talk to the Colonel.  Three minutes later, I was talking to an infuriated and aghast Colonel, with backup of the Sergeant Major (the other person who counts in military life, whom I snagged while walking down a corridor), who said that Homeland Security had taken over his computers and he couldn’t get in.  He’s the Head of an important department, a full colonel, and HE can’t get into the system!

Yes, of course he believed I am exactly who I say I am.  Yes, he was positive that DEERS could verify my claim…but he couldn’t get in, period.  The nice man made three ‘phone calls trying to pull some strings to get me a Driver’s License, but nobody had the guts to buck the new system, even though we all knew that DEERS can verify every particular back to 1965.  The Colonel was astounded; he, too, is accustomed to being able to move mountains others can’t.   At that moment, he and Charles both got horror-stricken expressions and grabbed for their wallets, having realized that if anything happens to either their driver’s licenses or military ID cards, they will be in exactly the same boat I am.  They didn’t quite kiss their sacred proofs of personhood, but they definitely clutched them like toddlers with teddy bears and checked expiration dates carefully.

So back we go (I think we drove well over a thousand miles, all told) to Tiny Town, Texas, where, by now, I have charmed the whey out of the person who gives written tests, scores them, closes the office, and gives the driving test…about six hours a week.  That wonderful person laid career on the line and argued passionately with the next two people up the line, got permission to examine my knowledge and driving skills, and rewarded me with a piece of paper saying that eventually Austin would send me an actual driver’s license…in the process demanding my thumb prints, a clear violation of a little Constitutional provision about testifying against myself if I ever misbehaved.  You don’t have to be fingerprinted; you can forego driving if you prefer.   It’s like paying for Medicare; you don’t have to, but they will keep your entire Social Security check if you don’t.

Back to the base again, where, upon inserting a valid Texas DL as “Open sesame,” DEERS opens up obligingly, agrees I’m me, and I have a new Military ID card in about three minutes.  Is this “Mother, May I?” in spades, or what?

I turned next to the passport issue, because we can’t even get outside the US iron curtain without one, now.  THAT effort is still on hold, despite hieing myself to the District Clerk’s office and paying MORE than an original passport costs PLUS an extra sum for the Clerk’s signature.  She duly photocopied my DL, my military ID card, my sacred SS card, and my birth certificate, attached two photographs and a copy of a reproduction of my presumed destroyed passport, and mailed it herself to confirm those aren’t forgeries.

Four months pass…and do I get a new passport?  No.  I get a letter from the passport office demanding an additional $60 to “research” my passport.  Research WHAT?  Here are all the documents and there is a photocopy of the original including the number.  What’s to research?  It doesn’t matter.  I can pay up or do without.  And I can do it promptly or they will confiscate well in excess of a hundred dollars and I will have to start over.

The moral of this tale is be certain that you have everything you need to document your citizenship and that of your family.  Make photocopies, get duplicates of everything down to and including extra death and marriage certificates and divorce decrees, extra certified copies of birth certificates, and anything else you can think of that may be needed to prove some day that you are who you say you are.  Post a list in a prominent place now giving the expiration dates of absolutely everything, starting with your DL and passports.  If you don’t have passports, get them.  You can’t get out of the country without them, Kamerad, and that assumes you aren’t on the 400,000 “no fly” list.    Without two forms of official photo ID you can’t drive, open a bank account, get married, or get divorced, and who knows what they would do with your body if you died?  Donate it to a medical school, Tovarisch?

This isn’t funny and it becomes more serious every time Congress rams through a couple of thousand pages of legislation no one has read.

Hitler found the Geheimstatspolizei very useful.  “Homeland Security Police” isn’t an exact translation, and they don’t call themselves “police,” at present, but it’s close enough linguistically and entirely too close for comfort in the land of the not so free and the home of the increasingly apprehensive.

Linda Brady Traynham

April 29, 2009