Opinion: Red tape rules at the local DMV
I am a lifelong resident of the state of Vermont currently residing in the town of Middlebury. Recently, I received a license renewal notification from the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), including information regarding the Real ID Act. Acting on the information provided and the need to renew my license, I went to the mobile DMV office at the courthouse in Middlebury on Feb. 19 in the afternoon. What ensued is an example of how far this great state and the USA as a whole, have strayed from sanity.
Upon leaving work on Feb. 19, I stopped at home to pick up the necessary documents to process my license renewal and picked up my 8-year-old son, who I wished to provide a lesson in how the privilege of driving works in Vermont. Following arrival at the courthouse and signing in, my son and I waited for approximately 15-20 minutes before being called to the desk. Most of that time was spent teaching my son about the process of getting a license, the rules of driving, how violating those rules can result in loss of license, etc. During that time we also observed two migrant farm workers getting licenses (more on that later).
At the desk, I produced my valid U.S. passport and renewal form. I was then told by the DMV agent that I also needed my Social Security card. I told the agent that I had produced that for the DMV, along with an official copy of my birth certificate many years ago. Unfortunately, however, the agent was unable to locate any record. The agent further acknowledged that the information on the Real ID insert that came with my renewal notification was confusing and that most people see the “Valid, unexpired U.S. passport or,” and simply assume that all they need is a their passport. I was then advised of my options — I could go home and get my Social Security card, come back and renew my license for the four years that I desired, or I could renew my license as a “Non-Real ID” for two years. (Why would any U.S. citizen want a “Non-Real ID”? Isn’t that like marking yourself with the Scarlet Letter?)
Now, I am employed at a Department of Defense cleared facility, have a secret clearance and routinely complete U.S. person verifications and other document verifications. Using a Social Security card with zero security features for identification purposes is essentially worthless. A U.S. passport, however, is about as rock solid as you can get. So, knowing that, I protested that it is an outrage that one must produce a Social Security card in order to renew their driver’s license for four years, while licenses (Real or Non-Real is irrelevant) are being issued to undocumented migrant workers. (I prefer the term “illegal”; when one clearly breaks several U.S. laws in entering and unlawfully residing in the U.S., you are illegally here. In fact, you are a felon.) I was promptly barked at from a DMV agent from the back, not even at the counter. The agent said, “Call your legislator!”
Riled up, I left the office in order to return home and retrieve the critical Social Security card. (By the way, wasn’t the Social Security Act never intended as a national ID program? In fact, prior to 1972, Social Security cards stated that they were not to be used for identification purposes. It was only when Congress realized that the numbers had become de facto identification that they relented.) Thoroughly disgusted with what I had just experienced, once outside the courthouse, I casually asked one of the migrant workers I passed on the sidewalk, “Tienes papeles?” (For non-Spanish speakers: “Do you have papers?”) To which he replied with a big grin, “Si.” (Yes). I then responded, “Verdad?” (“The truth?”) He replied with another big grin, “Si.” (Now before of any of you jump to the conclusion that I am anti-migrant or the dreaded “R” word, my wife is a legal migrant from Singapore. I also speak Spanish and tutored it at the tertiary level. I have all the respect in the world for those who legitimately come to this country (often, as was my case, after great expense and time). What I have no respect for is those who flout the law and are rewarded for it.)
After retrieving the critical Social Security card, I returned. I was then processed for my 4-year renewal and a “Real ID.” Folks, this is absolutely ridiculous. Here I am, a U.S. citizen, a lifelong Vermont resident, a Vermont driver for two decades, trying to teach my son a civics lesson and what happens? I am insulted. What lesson is my son learning? Apparently, if you are a U.S. citizen you must meet a higher standard in your own country, while illegal migrants are given special treatment. It is an insult to have to jump through so many hoops, while others are given privileges to which they have absolutely no right.
If everyone were treated equally and forced to produce the same documentation for the same privilege, then I would not complain. However, what is happening is a loophole is being opened by the state of Vermont for a special class, illegal migrants. Their mere presence at the courthouse is a violation of the law. Apparently, law enforcement in this country and Vermont has become selective. The laws of this country are being flouted from the top down and no one cares. Actually, correct that, some do care, they care enough to create special privileges and rights for illegal migrants. We have reached a point in this country where common sense and good judgment need not apply.
And before anyone goes off blaming the federal Real ID Act for all of the problems, let me say that how federal mandates are instituted is the responsibility of Vermont. The Real ID Act established a standard for the issuance of driver’s licenses for use for “official purposes” — boarding commercial aircraft, for example. It did not mandate the creation of a “Non-Real ID”; that was the choice of the state of Vermont when it decided last year to grant driving privileges to undocumented immigrants. (Note: Many states have actually passed laws preventing the implementation of the Real ID Act in their states. Others have simply not complied. Ohio, for instance, stopped work on its Real ID after discovering that over 26,500 people could access its database of sensitive documents, driver’s license photos, facial recognition data, biometrics, etc.)
I am reminded of a quote attributed to John Adams: “Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.” Perhaps after more than 200 years, we are reaching the tipping point from sanity to insanity. Perhaps we are on the road to committing suicide as a nation.
Leon H. Smith