Travel, driving, voting, banking and virtually every other part of American life will be part of a government surveillance database if “REAL ID” legislation created by US Republican James Sensenbrenner becomes law.
And travelers between US and Canada will be running a gauntlet of government officials, military soldiers, police and citizen vigilantes if right-wing members of Congress and the US public get their way.
The news is causing consternation among Canadian marijuana producers, who count on southbound export routes to increase the value of Canadian weed. Top-ranked Canadian bud averages about $1900 wholesale in Canadian currency when it is sold north of the border. South of the border in the weed-starved USA, Canadian bud sells for an average $2600 and more, in US currency. The currency exchange rate is approximately 1.20 Canadian dollars for each American dollar, so a pound of bud selling for $1900 Canadian dollars in Canada is worth $3100 Canadian dollars in the US. Within 3-5 years, some smugglers contend, it will be impossible to breach the US-Canadian border. The mathematics demonstrates that if the border becomes impregnable, a lot of Canadians will lose money.
The oppressive changes that close North American borders and make citizen travel hazardous are originating only in the US, and will affect Americans and foreigners. Hidden in an appropriations bill that spends $82 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (the wars have already cost at least $210 billion) is Sensenbrenner’s Big Brother REAL ID law.
The new regulations will essentially create a national identification card that doubles as a state-issued driver’s license. Individual states will have an increasingly costly burden of accepting and processing driver’s licenses as they conform to Sensenbrenner’s federal standards, which have been described as “draconian” and intrusive.
People seeking to renew existing driver’s licenses or get their first licenses will be required to provide far more proof of who they are, and provide far more personal information, than ever before. Some suspect that provisions of the law will allow the government to collect and store biometric and genetic data on all licensed drivers, immigrant and others needing identification for travel or employment.
During debate on the law, congressional staffers acknowledged that people will have to give proof of their physical address, their social security number, medical history, financial information, their birthplace and birthdate.
“The federal government should set standards for the issuance of birth certificates and sources of identification, such as driver’s licenses,” wrote the commissioners who produced the government’s 9/11 report, which forms the basis for the new legislation. “Fraud in identification documents is no longer just a problem of theft. At many entry points to vulnerable facilities, including gates for boarding aircraft, sources of identification are the last opportunity to ensure that people are who they say they are and to check whether they are terrorists.”
Under the new law, states have to produce digitalized driver’s licenses that include a large amount of personal data that can be read by a scanning machine. The Big Brother agency of all time- the Homeland Security Department- gets to decide what must be encoded on the card. Critics argue that the government has no right to gather this information or make it available to non-government agencies. They also say that the card’s design could make it vulnerable to easy hacking.
Those who favor the law respond that states are not required to honor the federal legislation. They fail to mention that residents of those non-complying states, however, could not use their driver’s license as identification for air travel and other crucial business.
The legislation would require all drivers, including current license holders, to provide multiple documents to verify their identity before they could obtain a license or renew one. Drivers would have to provide four types of documentation, such as a photo ID, a birth certificate, proof that their Social Security number is legitimate and something that verifies the applicant’s full home address, such as a utility bill. The law would then compel Department of Motor Vehicle employees to verify the documents against federal databases and digitally store the documents and a photo of the card holder in a massive database to be shared with law enforcement agencies and private companies.
Driver’s licenses would contain microscopic encoding chips containing personal data, and privacy advocates fear that recent database breaches by commercial cheque verification companies and similar database companies are only a foretaste of the loss of privacy and identify theft that will be caused by Congress’s new idea.
The latest privacy-busting regulations are part of a package of laws that the US has been putting into place since 9/11. Legislators claim the laws are designed to stop terrorism, but their actual effect is to make it harder for people to travel to or in the US, and to make it virtually impossible for the US to honor treaty commitments regarding international travel, immigration, asylum seekers, due process, and privacy rights.
One interesting facet of the Sensenbrenner law is that it found its way into legislation through methods that appear to be deliberately devious. The congressmen first tried to shove his ideas into laws that were drafted in response to the 9/11 Commission’s report. These ideas included a plan to allow private “bounty hunters” to chase people for money. Some of Sensenbrenner’s more ludicrous ideas were removed from legislation last year after a firestorm of protests. A few weeks ago, Sensenbrenner re-inserted his proposals into new legislation that was attached to a law that funds the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The House of Representatives passed this new legislation without adequate public debate or hearings, and they were later added in to a Senate version of the laws without debate.
The laws violate treaties known as the International Bill of Rights. These treaties include the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). The US has agreed to ICCPR, but insists that it does not have to abide by international treaties if it does not want to. Indeed, violation of international treaties and laws has become a hallmark of US policy in the last decade.
The REAL ID law also violates the United Nations Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees which says no country can deport a person who is applying for refugee or asylum status if that person legitimately fears persecution in their home country for race, religion, nationality, gender or membership in a particular social-political group. Sensenbrenner’s legislation makes it much harder for people to apply for asylum in the US.
The anti-immigrant, border security movement is taking on a life of its own, and is augmenting draconian US government actions.
One of Sensenbrenner’s biggest supporters is right-wing San Diego talk show host and former San Diego mayor Roger Hedgecock. The rabid pundit, known mostly for being a pathetic Rush Limbaugh imitator, last week organized a conference in Washington, DC called “Hold Their Feet to the Fire.”
Hedgecock and his allies want REAL ID passed immediately, and they want to increase the use of military forces, fences, and “Minuteman” border vigilantes along all America’s borders.
“My hope is that we can take this model of securing the border and stretch it all the way down to Brownsville, Texas, and for that matter all the way from Vancouver out to the east coast of Canada, too,” Hedgecock says, advocating that thousands of miles of fences be built along the US-Canada border.
“The fence should and could be built,” he says. “It’s obviously there to do. We’ve shown how to do it. They also need the sensors, they need the ‘eye-in-the-sky,’ they need the Minuteman-type project, they need the eyes and ears of citizens. I’ll tell you, if the government does not secure these borders in all the ways we know it can be done- as it is being done in Iraq and Afghanistan- then the citizens are going to have to do it. The Minuteman Project will expand, it will go across the border, across the entire Mexican and Canadian borders. I think if that’s what we have to do, that’s what we’ll do.”
According to James Gilchrist, a leader and co-founder of the Minuteman Project civilian vigilante force that has been in the Southwestern US intimidating Mexican immigrants, his force intend to mass along the entire southern border in October.
“For the month of October, the Minuteman Project will man the entire border from Brownsville, Texas, to San Diego, California,” he warns. “We expect somewhere as many as 14,000 volunteers and we intend to literally seal off the entire southern border.”
Gilchrist and his allies in the Project warn that they’re heading north. Some Minutemen believe that Canada is an “enemy socialist country” that refused to help the US illegally invade Iraq and which is “exporting deadly drugs to the US just like Colombia.” These drugs include BC bud, the Minutemen say, and they aim to stop all Canadians who use the wilderness of the Canadian border to slip into the US.
“In the absence of the federal government doing its mandated duty to secure our borders, we will pick up the slack,” threatened Chris Simcox, a Minuteman co-organizer who also operates Civil Homeland Defense, another vigilante group. “We shouldn’t have to be doing this, but at this point, we will continue to grow this operation also to the northern border.”
Simcox said that the Northern Minuteman Project will begin guarding the US-Canadian border primarily in four states this summer. The states are Idaho, Michigan, North Dakota and Vermont. Minutemen have been increasing their political clout in the US, meeting with members of Congress and the Bush administration, and getting mostly favorable coverage from American corporate mainstream media. Minutemen have been meeting privately with legislators and federal agencies, lobbying for government money and increased authority for their activities.
Most Minutemen are retired military personnel or gun enthusiasts, and some have admitted that they are in the Project because they are bored at home and miss the fun of combat and pursuit of bad guys.
But these vigilantes are not to be taken lightly. In a detailed, insightful article by Christopher Ketcham on Salon.com, Minutemen such as Simcox are revealed as slightly unhinged people.
Simcox says he wears a bulletproof vest because illegal immigrant drug gangsters have threatened him. In January, 2003, Ketcham reports, federal park rangers arrested Simcox, who was outfitted with firearms and police scanners while illegally chasing illegal immigrants in a national park. Simcox was convicted on a misdemeanor federal firearms charge and served a year of probation.
Ketcham’s article contains sections that show the vigilantes as a wanna-be paramilitary. It also shows that some of them smoke cannabis, even though they publicly say that interdicting Mexican and Canadian cannabis smugglers is part of their mission. Some ganja smugglers suspect that the Minutemen’s patrols are designed to catch cannabis exporters, and rip them off.
“I was writing about a group of border ‘vigilantes’ called Ranch Rescue,” Ketcham relates, “[which is]a heavily armed militia led by the baby-faced blowhard Jack Foote, who talked of invading Mexico and killing the leaders (though Foote, a former US Army officer, had himself never seen action). The Ranch Rescuers wore camouflage fatigues, painted their faces, and tracked down migrants on midnight forays, carrying Kalashnikovs, Glocks and extra ammo. Occasionally their hunts went awry. One of Foote’s militiamen was arrested in 2003 on assault charges after allegedly pistol-whipping a migrant waylaid deep in the desert. Mostly, though, the militiamen drank beer and whiskey and ate beans out of cans and smoked a lot of pot, which I found strange, as much of their mission was to interdict drugs. ‘Only if it comes in legally do we want it,’ the men told me, not realizing the ridiculousness of the logic.”
In another revealing vignette, Ketcham describes what happens when Simcox sees anti-Minutemen American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) observers watching the Minutemen in a small Arizona town. Simcox shouts threats of blackmail, saying he will embarrass the ACLU by sending a video of them smoking marijuana to a reactionary conservative talk show host.
“Stoners! We’re gonna get that video to Sean Hannity,” Simcox says.
The fact that Minutemen apparently didn’t kill or beat up any illegal Mexican immigrants during their recent citizen desert patrol demonstration project in Arizona caused many former skeptics, including California governor Arnold “The Terminator” Schwarzenegger, to newly praise the organization as an honorable group of courageous armed citizens valiantly defending American borders against, drugs, terrorists, and illegals.
The Minuteman organizers want the US government to spend $8 billion to pay for a three year program that would build a fence from Vancouver to eastern Canada along the border. They also want the US to put the Army, Marines and National Guard along the US-Canadian border.
The U.S. Office of Air and Marine Operations has already deployed new airplanes, boats, command centers, and helicopters in the Blaine border region north of Seattle. Other paramilitary operations and command centers along the northern border are scheduled for New York, Montana, Michigan, and North Dakota. Authorities are also installing or retrofitting millions of dollars worth of wireless motion and heat sensors, and clandestine cameras, along the borders. The US Congress is considering funding for 2,000 new border patrol agents for the US-Canada border. The US has passed laws that allow them to charge Canadian marijuana smugglers with terrorism; in some cases, these charges carry the death penalty.
Canadian authorities are cooperating with the US. The US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) are working more closely together than ever in both countries to attack the Canadian marijuana industry.
Canadian Auditor-General Sheila Fraser recently released a sympathetic report that outlines problems in the US-Canada law enforcement/border relationship; the report suggests that the Canadian federal government intends to completely buy into American plans to militarize the northern border and otherwise create a cross-border police state.
Marijuana growers, smugglers, and others who disapprove of US policies are mounting a counterattack on the increased border security.
Some are contacting Canadian embassies and demanding that the Canadian ambassador to the US, Frank McKenna, formally protest US actions. They tell McKenna to boldly oppose US attempts to build a fence or increase patrols along the US-Canadian borders. Others are contacting the American embassy in Ottawa, telling the Americans to stop acting like international war criminals, and to stop trying to militarize the entire continent.
McKenna is already a bit peeved with Americans. He recently wrote a letter of protest to former Congressional leader Newt Gingrich, who had said on a talk show that terrorists were using the Canadian border to cross into the US.
McKenna said Gingrich was lying, and asked for a retraction.
Some people are finding new ways to enjoy hiking, mountain biking, archery, canoeing, hunting, and similar outdoor activities in northern border regions. They are discovering the meditative hobby of using metal detectors, and some metal detectors just happen to find US government sensors along the border. It is reported that some miscreants have been known to disable or even remove the sensors, which is a federal crime!
Citizens are engaging in geocaching, terrain mapping, remote surveillance, war games and security testing, for example by waltzing around the border in various locales, mistakenly stumbling across the invisible border lines drawn by governments in the raw earth, then watching to see how quickly border patrols respond to their mistakes. Some people engaged in hunting and target practice say they have mistakenly shot and destroyed US surveillance cameras and other equipment.
As the US government passes new laws that make the country resemble the locked down society of the Soviet Union 40 years ago, and as civilian militia seek to bring weapons and intimidation to borders, freedom-loving North Americans are wondering how far the US will go in its quest to dominate its own citizens and those of other countries.
For more information on how to stop the REAL ID law: www.unrealid.com/index.html
To contact Canada’s ambassador to the US:
501 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20001
202-682-1740; Fax: 202-682-7701
Office of Frank Mckenna
Fax: (202) 682-7678
Canadian Embassy Political Minister, Jon Allen
Fax: (202) 682-7792
To contact the US ambassador to Canada, visit the website, www.usembassycanada.gov, and click on “contact information.”
To contact Congressman James Sensenbrenner (note the 800 number, but also note that when you call an 800 number, the originating phone number is recorded by the person you call- use a pay phone!):
To get help with problems with federal agencies, federal grants, or information on speaking engagements, contact:
120 Bishops Way, Room 154
Brookfield, WI 53005-6294
Telephone: (262) 784-1111
Outside the Milwaukee Metro calling area, call his toll-free HOTLINE number: 1-800-242-1119.
Washington, D.C. Office
To write about issues pending in Congress, internships, flags, or tours, contact:
2449 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515-4905
Telephone: (202) 225-5101
E-mail address is [email protected].