“I am vowing, here and now, not to show papers in this situation”
March 1, 2017 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
“American citizens had their introduction to the Trump-era immigration machine Wednesday...” So begins “Papers, Please,” an article that appeared in The Atlantic online on February 27, about the February 22 domestic flight from SFO to JFK airport where every passenger was told by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents to show their ID before they could get off the plane. The agents claimed they were looking for a passenger who was undocumented and had a criminal record; it turned out that the person they sought was not on the plane.
In the article, written by Garrett Epps, legal scholar, novelist, and contributing editor to The Atlantic, he examines all possible legal authorities and concludes that there is no justification in U.S. law for what was done to the passengers on that plane. And then Epps, demonstrating the courage of his convictions, writes:
“I am vowing, here and now, not to show papers in this situation. I know that it will take gumption to follow through if the situation arises. What will be the reaction of ordinary travelers, some with outstanding warrants or other legal worries? Should we expect heroism of people who just want to get off an airplane?”
The February 22 incident at JFK gave the country and the world a glimpse of the new repressive powers and expansive reach given to the CBP enforcers under the new Trump/Pence regime. This was not an international flight with passengers returning from travel abroad, or with visas and permits to enter the U.S. There was no “reasonable suspicion” to justify asking every passenger, one by one, to prove that they were not an immigrant in trouble with the law. And while CBP now claims this was a request the passengers could have refused, no one aboard the plane was given that impression. One of the passengers tweeted: “My flight from SFO to JFK. We were told we couldn’t disembark without showing our ‘documents.’”
In one stroke this regime has granted itself the power to require that travelers anywhere within the borders of this country be subject to random ID checks—any time, anywhere.
Garrett Epps’ declaration was picked up by journalist Glenn Greenwald, who has sent it viral by tweeting it—accompanied by this challenge: “‘I am vowing here and now not to show papers in this situation.’ That’s a good campaign: to spread this vow as much as possible.”
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