OPINION: Identity Theft

By Valentina Zapata*

Ilustration by Karlha Velásquez.

I was not at all surprised to see Nebraska’s Attorney General Doug Peterson’s name on the brief supporting the most recently rejected lawsuit brought by the Trump administration claiming voter fraud.

Despite numerous judges already rebuking these claims for months now, Doug felt compelled to use his position of power to attempt to disenfranchise millions of U.S. citizens’ votes. Disenfranchise is a nice way of saying steal someone’s vote. With respect to the move, the Omaha World Herald called Doug out as “baldly political… dangerous and undemocratic.” Sounds like the Doug I met when he presented at a Lincoln Legal Professionals Association’s seminar I attended a few years back.

Doug spoke about what the office of the attorney general does in Nebraska. In doing so he very explicitly blamed “undocumented” people for the majority of identity theft in Nebraska.

His claims were as baseless as Trump’s voter fraud lawsuits. He offered nothing to substantiate his claim and instead sounded like he was telling us a story about a boogie man. He went on to suggest that undocumented people cannot obtain work, utilities, telephone services, bank accounts and/or lines of credit without stealing the social security numbers of good folks like those sitting in that room. This confounding of the facts was just outright wrong so I raised my hand to ask a few questions.

I was genuinely interested in researching any criminal cases brought against these “undocumented” people that surely had to have been filed since this was the number one threat to Nebraskan’s secure identity.

I wanted to know why he wasn’t telling the audience about how the U.S. is so good at collecting taxes, it issues an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) to “undocumented” people. With this ITIN, they can do things like run a business, open bank accounts and yes…be consumers. Most of the top utility companies are happy to have “undocumented” customers and will gladly accept an ITIN in lieu of a social security number.

I do agree with him that “undocumented” people do indeed use social security numbers not assigned to them to gain employment. This is absolutely evident by the surplus in Social Security funds. I wanted to know how if the audience here should be concerned about an undocumented person working under their social security number, why is there such a surplus of uncollected funds. And then remind him that if it were not for these funds collected from “undocumented” people, he would have more than likely been part of the last generation to collect a social security check.

I wanted to confront him about what he meant by “undocumented” and ask him specific questions about the Treaty of Hidalgo. I wanted to remind him that when he says “undocumented” he is largely referring to indigenous people and he is on our appropriated land.

All of these things ran through my head as my hand stayed raised in the air.

Finally I thought, I can’t say any of that. I cannot even bring those things up right now. The entire room is just feeding into his presentation. The people he does call on reaffirm his idea of the “identity thief” being this “undocumented” person desperate to put their Verizon bill in your name.

But I still would not put my hand down. I decided I would just ask him about the biggest heist of personal information that I had ever heard of when identity thieves found out that a large amount of the pleadings in family law cases included parties’ and their minor childrens’ social security numbers and dates of birth, among other confidential information.

I was going to ask why they were never able to prosecute anyone for those crimes.

This would have been informational to the audience of legal professionals, as the majority of them remembered when the process changed. I am sure he could shed some light on that situation and have to admit that the likely thieves were most definitely “documented” and more than likely were not indigenous to this continent.

However, I sat there with my hand in the air while he called on every other person in the room, and avoided me alone. Although I have been told I “pass” as a white woman, I was the only person with explicit Indigenous roots in the room. And I was the only one whose hand in the air was absolutely ignored and dismissed. Not just by the attorney general, but the facilitators of the seminar. I have seen speakers overlook a raised hand before and the facilitators will speak up and remind the speaker that one person appears to have a question.

I was so disgusted when I walked out of that seminar. All I could think about was that this man gets paid top dollar to go out and incite fear against Indigenous people. He had to know that he was confounding facts. What motivation does he have to perpetuate negative stereotypes against my brethren? His brethren?

Indigenous people have always been absolutely integral to the vitality of Nebraska. And therein lies the answer. My grandmother and her children worked the fields of Nebraska and Wyoming for literally pennies. The Bracero Program brought her here. A program later denounced by the Department of Labor as modern-day slavery. To pretend that this country was not built on and continues to run on a system that exploits cheap labor is absolutely oppressive. This type of ignorance is how we end up with our current Immigration laws which give the least amount of favor to the people Indigenous to his land.

Perpetuating the idea that we are identity thieves or undocumented and not that we are indeed indigenous to the appropriated land those in positions of power write these laws about, is the utmost identity theft – in my opinion.

Further, my vote is such a part of my identity. It was ironic to me that this man who pretends to be so concerned with guarding U.S. citizen’s identities was so proud to steal the vote of millions of other U.S. citizens.

*Valentina Zapata is an American-Mexican paralegal that has work in Omaha in many firms helping immigrants. 

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