All of us have become accustomed to traveling with our passports when we leave the United States. But how many people realize that Hispanic-Americans must carry their passports when they travel domestically?
I recently visited my hometown of Laredo, Texas, which is located on the southern border of the United States. On the American side of the international bridge that connects Laredo and Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, there are the usual U.S. government immigration officials who stop people entering the United States to question them about their citizenship. But since I stayed in Laredo and never crossed into Mexico, I didn’t need to concern myself with this type of government intrusion. Wrong!
After I had gone through the metal detector at the Laredo airport, preparing to board my plane back to Virginia, I (along with the other passengers) was stopped by a U.S. immigration official and asked whether I was an American citizen. I later asked another passenger – a Mexican-American – about this and he said that he never travels to the border without his passport, in case he has to document that he really is an American citizen. He also said that he never “dresses down” when he leaves Laredo, for fear of being mistaken for a Mexican illegal alien.
The situation is the same for automobile travelers who leave Laredo on Interstate Highway 35 for parts north. After going over a slight ridge about 30 miles north of Laredo, travelers encounter a startling sight: an immigration station that would cause any unsuspecting traveler to think that he is about to enter a foreign country! Drivers are required to slow down on the interstate and must be prepared to stop to discuss citizenship with U.S. immigration officials.
Let me be clear about this. These immigration stops are inside the domestic territory of the United States, not at the international bridge and not on the banks of the Rio Grande. Residents of Laredo and visitors returning north who have never crossed into Mexico must be prepared to stop and submit to questioning by U.S. immigration officials.
And guess who customarily has to prove his citizenship to skeptical immigration officials. You’ve got it: dark-skinned Americans who don’t appear to have lots of money. Why else would those immigration officials be at the airport and on the interstate, if not to detect and prevent Latin American illegal aliens from entering the United States?
For example, a close friend of mine is an elderly woman named Maria, who is a housekeeper in Laredo. Although Maria is an American citizen, having been born in Texas, both her parents were Mexicans. Maria doesn’t speak English. Periodically, she travels to San Antonio on the bus. She tells me that she always carries proof of citizenship with her because the officials at the immigration station north of Laredo frequently board the bus and require passengers to show proof of citizenship. Of course, the bus passengers are usually poorer people of Mexican descent.
I asked another traveler on my flight whether anyone ever challenges this insulting and demeaning treatment. He said, “No, Hispanics generally do not question authority.”
But sometimes authority should be questioned. Why should an American traveler who never enters a foreign country have to prove his citizenship to a domestic policeman? Why should Hispanic-Americans, just because their skin is darker, have to carry their passports when they depart America’s border cities? Why should they have to be concerned about the type of clothing they wear when they travel inside the U.S? Aren’t domestic passports the type of thing the Communists used in the Soviet Union?
Historically, one of the great features of American life has been the unrestricted right of people to travel, trade, and immigrate freely between the respective cities and states of our nation. Internal passport checks are a dark blot on this great tradition. Like the Soviet Union itself, they should be dismantled and tossed into the dustbin of history.