turning red states blue, one pissed-off voter at a time
Lisa Falkenberg of the Houston Chronicle investigates a new Texas administrative rule that seems part of the state GOP's scheme to turn Texas blue in the next 10 years:
The Houston nonprofit executive was shifting weight in line at an Humble DPS office earlier this month, waiting to renew his driver's license, when he noticed a couple of people in front of him come away looking confused or exasperated.
When he got to the front, he understood why.
The woman behind the counter ran his name, Jose Villarreal, in her computer. Then, he says, she promptly asked him to prove his citizenship.
Villarreal was taken aback. He was born and raised in South Texas, in a little town called Orange Grove, and moved to Houston in 1976. At 61, he'd never been asked by DPS to prove he was here legally.
"One, I was mad. Two, I was humiliated," he told me. "Why should I have to justify my citizenship, when, as far as I can tell, we have three or four generations of Villarreals living on this side of the border?"
When he asked questions, a supervisor handed him a copy of a new Texas Department of Public Safety rule aimed at preventing illegal immigrants from obtaining driver's licenses.
"I read that over and said, 'This doesn't apply to me. This is for someone who's applied for citizenship,' " Villarreal recalled. "And they said, 'Well, the computer doesn't show you in here, so you're going to have to show a birth certificate.' "
... the new administrative rule ... was quietly adopted over the summer by the Public Safety Commission after lawmakers refused for years to pass it. ... the one thing the rule wasn't supposed to do is snag citizens. The rule specifically states, "If U.S. citizen, no documentation needed." That's a bit of a Catch-22 since, in some cases, the state can't tell if you're a citizen without seeing documentation.
Villarreal showed documentation but the worker wouldn't accept it. He had to go get a new birth certificate and come back to try again.
Villarreal said the experience left him wondering if he'd been profiled because of his Spanish surname. And, he says, he couldn't help noticing that the two Anglos originally in front of him in line breezed through the process, while a Hispanic and a South Asian were sent back for further documentation.
I called DPS spokesman Tom Vinger. He told me the agency had received similar complaints, but assured me they were coming from Anglos, too, and profiling was not at play.
This is about as convincing as W's assurances that "we don't torture."
The problem, he said, is that the database DPS uses to verify legal status is incomplete.
It's supposed to show whether someone is a citizen or a non-citizen. But for untold citizens, it is answering "unknown," most likely because the driver never checked the box on his or her original license application or renewal form that asks about citizenship.
So, how is DPS dealing with the glitch? ... it involved giving field offices discretion to judge people's claims of citizenship, without necessarily asking for documents.
And how would they do that? By asking questions, he said. ... Now, if the rule itself doesn't promote profiling, such discretion surely will. It gives a large group of variously trained government employees the power to make decisions based on their own personal biases, assumptions and hunches.
What does an American citizen look like, anyway? Dark-skinned or light? Tall or short? What questions reveal true citizenship? Which answers?
Sure, it may be smooth sailing for the white guy, in Wranglers, with a Houston twang, who, upon questioning, says he attended Bellaire High. Even Villarreal, bespectacled, often donning a suit and tie, may be deemed respectable-looking enough to escape trouble.
But what if his South Texas accent were thicker? What if he showed up in laborer's clothes? Had an Arabic name? What if his wife wore a hijab?
Then no driver's license for you!
This is where the entire country will be headed if eVerify is adopted on a national level.
This is why Texas is turning blue, one racially-profiled voter at a time.