Tuesday, April 27, 2010

but it's so easy to get an ID!

whenever anyone complains that indiana's voter ID law is too strict, proponents get bent out of shape. "everything else in our society requires ID, so why not voting?" they say. "besides, it's not that hard to get ID."

meet brent jones, profiled in tully's latest column (which ran in sunday's paper but was embargoed online until today). when brent was a baby, his troubled mother would often leave him with a local child care center, sometimes for days at a time. eventually, she disappeared entirely. the people who ran the child care effectively adopted brent, but no paperwork. 17 years later, brent was preparing to graduate high school, but had no birth certificate, no legal record of his identity. as such, he was unable to get a license, a college scholarship, or full-time work. and of course, unable to vote in indiana.

"People don't understand how ridiculous this is," Brent said. "It's crazy. No matter how much you try to explain, people say, 'There has to be a way.' No. I've tried everything."

As frustrating as Brent's case is, Marion County juvenile court Judge Marilyn Moores said it isn't unique. She comes across a handful of such cases each year. As with Brent, the story often begins with a birth parent handing a child off to a friend without taking the legal steps required.

"All of the systems of government have to become more sensitive to this issue," she said. "You can't tell these children they don't exist as far as our system is concerned. You can't penalize the child for the sins of the parent."


Brent was allowed to enroll at the schools because students who are unable to prove their identity aren't turned away. Nonetheless, the system did fail him. Many school workers knew his story, but nobody made the effort to help resolve his lack of legal documentation.

getting ID might not be so hard for those of us priveleged enough to come from stable homes, who were fortunate enough not to have our paper records destroyed by fire or tornado. but not everyone is so fortunate. it's easy to pretend that people like brent don't exist, or that they don't matter, but these people are real. they exist, and they are marginalized by bureaucracy.

in the end, brent's story has a happy ending. tully and the star's research department scoured public databased and made a lot of phone calls, and eventually were able to locate brent's mother, who was fortunately still alive and doing well. but again, this is sheer luck. brent had the good fortune to meet a newspaper columnist who happened to be writing a series of columns about manual high school, where brent had happened to transfer recently. surely, not everyone who lacks a birth certificate will meet a matt tully, and even if they did, tully and the star surely don't have time to locate them all.

there are others out there like brent: legally ghosts, with no tangible identity. these are people who've been treated like numbers, and their numbers got skipped.

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