I alluded to this in a previous post but truth be told I had to calm down about the situation before I could blog about it. First let me say that I do love this country, it has been my new home since 2005 and whilst I live in the bubble known as San Francisco I hadn’t experienced anything massively negative in my eight years here. That was until this trip. In the 4700 miles covered so far everyone I’ve encountered has been friendly, charming and the further south I reach the level of hospitality I’ve received has been nothing short of exemplary.
I had pulled off the highway in a rural part of Alabama to get fuel for the car. I was happy to see my favourite gasoline brand reappear on the landscape and pulled into a Chevron station and treated Otto with a full tank of 93, he only usually gets to drink 91 in California. Once I fuelled up the car I went into the store to get a fresh bag of ice to top off the cooler and noticed a State Trooper pull in and park up behind the car. The Office got out of the car walked up to mine and started peering into the windows. Having completed my sale I left the gas station and walked back to my car. The cop asked me if it was mine, to which I replied it was and he made a comment about me being a long way from home.
Further exchanges between us started to get my hackles up, he was asking me odd questions and making statements like “This is a family car but I only see you here and this dog, something isn’t right” and how I “didn’t match the car”. I had all the documentation for the car with me and offered to show these to the Officer but then he changed his tack and asked me where I was from and to hand over my drivers licence. I was labouring under the apprehension that there has to be probable cause to do this and his line of questioning had already got me wary so I asked him what basis he had for asking me these questions, the car was mine and I could prove it. The car was stationery when he pulled in, I had not been speeding nor was I drunk or even remotely in contravention with the Alabama Vehicle Code. He uttered something along the lines of “You aren’t from around here are you, show me your passport or alien registration card.”. A chill came over me as I immediately recalled the news items on NPR that accompanied the new Alabama “Show me your papers law”. I had meant to pack my green card but it seems it was one of the things I overlooked, searching frantically through my wallet it was clear I didn’t have it.
The cop was getting increasingly agitated and I increasingly nervous. I remember hearing stories of executives from local foreign car manufacturing plants being pulled over and detained. I had visions of me being cuffed and thrown in the back of the cruiser until I could prove my provenance. Fortunately for me I have an excellent memory for numbers and can remember my A# number by heart. I offered this as well as showing the officer a *copy* of my green card from the PDF scan that I knew I had nestling in my Skydrive. I provided the number but the officer did not want me pulling out my phone nor get in my car to get my Surface. He told me to get into the back of the car, thankfully uncuffed and he called it in. Twenty tense minutes passed while my credentials were checked and when he was able to confirm that I was indeed a lawful permanent resident I was allowed on my way with a stark warning that “the next cop may not be as reasonable as me and you could end up spending the night in jail”. I couldn’t wait to get out of the state that had so far been so welcoming but I did not want to risk being pulled over again and religiously kept to the speed limit.
I felt terrible, I could not believe that the country I had come to call my own would allow such a law to be passed. Once I arrived at my New Orleans hotel I called up my legal assistance line to see what the legal basis was. The helpline put me in touch with a local law firm that had knowledge of this law, they were pretty confident that I would not hear back from them and if I did get something else from the state police that they would help me fight it in court. I’m not sure if I would want to come all this way to defend this but I may well do in absentia.
A similar law exists in Arizona and I’m seriously considering modifying my route to avoid this especially considering they have immigration checkpoints on I-10 which is my current planned route up through to Tucson. I have since printed out a copy of my ARC from Skydrive and am carrying it with me. I understand that there is mounting opposition to this law even from within the state and a number of police forces have refused to enforce it. I only hope that common sense will prevail and these frankly fascist measures will become a thing of the past. I’m not saying I’m moving to Canada but I’d seriously rethink coming back to somewhere that subjects people that are here legally to what in my view amounts to persecution.
The irony to this whole situation is that I am now eligible to become a US Citizen because I have had my green card for over 5 years. This event given me the impetus to get my N400 in process so I can stick two fingers up to the oppressive jackbooted morons that enforce the indefensible.
May this also be a cautionary tale.