Are Your Papers in Order?

There was a time — in living memory, even — when the roadblock, the vehicle or personal search, and the demand for “your papers, please” were the height of Cold War cliche. If you saw them on a film screen or read them in a potboiler novel, and you knew the protagonists were traveling in Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, or a troubled, war-torn Third World dictatorship.

Over time, cliche has become commonplace in America. “Random” roadbocks — not just at the border, but in the cities and towns of the heartland, for the putative purpose of apprehending drunk drivers, narcotics dealers, and other designated criminals — are the order of the day.

At the border, it’s more of the same, just standardized and dialed up to a higher order of magnitude. As of today, CNN reports, new requirements go into effect for entering the territory ruled by the oversized street gang which refers to itself as “the government of the United States.”

Government officials are already throwing around buzz words like “efficiencies” and “expedite” to describe the effect of new “approved travel documents” at Mexican and Canadian border crossings.

The real questions, of course, are exactly whom these documents are efficient for, and why the process of crossing an imaginary line on the ground should be cumbersome enough to require a procedure for “expediting” it in the first place.

Political “borders” do not protect people’s rights or secure people’s property. That’s neither their overall purpose nor their specific function. Their overall purpose is to enhance the state’s power, and their specific function is to give the state control — including taxing capabilities — over the people and property who move across them.

Borders, in other words, are not created to benefit you. Precisely the opposite: They’re created to observe and control your movements, to milk your bank accounts, and to psychologically reinforce the claim that you are, for all practical purposes, the property of “your” government.

That logic, to the extent that it serves its purposes, is inevitably turned inward and given effect further and further away from the borders themselves. Even as the techniques of control are improved and perfected at the borders, they begin to be applied elsewhere.

It’s not just the aforementioned “random” roadblocks, though those are of course a troubling and especially visible aspect of the increasing intrusiveness of the state.

Over the last few years, the US government has begun implementation of its “REAL ID” scheme — part and parcel of an overall plan to standardize the documentation, classification and ultimately the 24/7 supervision of every man, woman and child in the United States.

Already, it’s impossible to even board a plane in the United States without satisfying an armed, uniformed bureaucrat’s demand for identification papers and submitting to an invasive search of both body and luggage. That scheme of control over internal travel is somewhat more slowly encompassing train and bus transportation as well. And of course travel by automobile has long been subject to invasive licensure procedures of both cars and drivers.

About the only mode of transportation left free of government intrusion these days is walking … or maybe not. Laws in at least 24 states require one to identify one’s self to “law enforcement” on demand. While these statutes do not necessarily require production of “papers” to substantiate that identification, it’s not unreasonable to expect that already pervasive “paperwork production” requirements will eventually be extended to pedestrians.

Cui bono — who benefits? You don’t. There’s no angle from which “border security” and “state-approved identification” schemes produce anything of value to the man on the street qua man on the street.

Rather, their effects accrue only to increasing the power of government, enhancing the prerogatives of government’s tax collectors and political enforcers, and creating channels of graft to satisfy the state’s favored constituents (for example, the exclusion of Mexican workers so as to artificially jack up labor costs as a favor to politically connected unions) — at your expense.

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