Friday, April 30, 2010

Immigration: A Personal Story

For the past twenty years, I’ve had the privilege of working in a school with a large immigrant population. Average per capita income is low, but the culture is rich and diverse. About 30% of our students come from Spanish-speaking backgrounds, but at any given time, we may have smaller populations whose first language is Bosnian, Russian, Vietnamese, Farsi, or (most recently) Somali. As you might expect, I have a few thoughts on the subject of immigration. These thoughts are informed by stories I’ve heard and people I’ve met.

For ten years, I had a classroom in a building lovingly cared for by a custodian named Pedro. He spoke such broken English that when we first met, it took me awhile to understand everything he said. I got plenty of practice, though, because Pedro was a talker. He talked while he worked, and he worked very hard. Our building was always immaculate, and if any little thing needed repair, all it took was a word to Pedro, and Presto! Everything would be quickly and expertly made right.

Although his shift usually started in the afternoon, Pedro happened to be in my classroom one day during 3rd hour, when announcements are read over the intercom. As the students stood up to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, Pedro clamped his hand over his heart and recited it more loudly than anyone else. I thought I heard his voice crack near the end, and glancing over at him, I saw that tears were running down his cheeks. When the pledge ended, he wiped his eyes, made the sign of the cross (the universal gesture of Catholics profoundly moved with emotion), and resumed his work. He loved to pick the brains of history and social studies teachers and was extremely knowledgeable about American history and government. He tended to cry easily when those subjects came up. Pedro was absolutely the proudest, most patriotic American I’ve ever known.

As the years went on, I learned a lot about Pedro and his family. (As I say, he was a talker.) Virtually every weekend, he completed jobs that would take most men a week or more—roofing a house, rebuilding a motor, plowing and planting. Gradually I learned that some of the properties on which he worked belonged to him, some to family, and some just to people he knew who needed a little help. The man was a demon for work. He had raised six children every one of whom completed at least a four-year college degree. More than once, I saw him in deep conversation with young men who needed a little advice about respect and responsibility—and believe me, they listened. I’ve never known anyone more deserving of respect.

Pedro was not an illegal immigrant. In fact, he was not an immigrant at all. He was born in a small Texas border town where his ancestors settled before the United States became a country. Unless you happen to be Native American, Pedro’s pedigree as an American is a good deal longer than yours or mine.

If the despicable new law just passed in Arizona goes into effect, can you imagine what the impact would be on a proud, honorable man like Pedro—a working man with a rugged face and heavy accent? Either he’d be stopped and asked for papers every time he set foot in public, or else every cop he encountered would be in violation of a law that requires them to check the documents of anyone they might reasonably suspect of being illegal.

That’s not all that’s wrong with the Arizona law, but it’s enough.

14 comments:

Six said...

Thanks for sharing Pedro's story! I agree with your sentiment that this law is awfully misguided. This law begins with a presumption of guilt and works backwards.

Six said...

Thanks for sharing Pedro's story! I agree with your sentiment that this law is awfully misguided. This law begins with a presumption of guilt and works backwards.

Idna said...

So C. Jane and Six, do you believe that there should be NO laws against coming into this country illegally?

Or do you think there should be laws on the books, but no enforcement of them?

Jane, along with your story of Pedro, maybe you should also tell the story of another U.S. citizen, Robert Krentz, who with his dog, was shot on March 27, 2010, while doing fence work on his ranch close to the Arizona/Mexican border. Who will in the end have given up more? ... Perdo may be put out a bit if asked for his papers, but Robert Krentz's life was taken.

Please don't just tell one side of a story. There have been many ranchers close to the border whose property was invaded by illegals. They have been robbed, injured and murdered over the years. When is enough, enough? I think Perdo may be understanding enough to put up with a little inconvenience to protect his fellow American citizens.

I just returned from a trip to Mexico last night. The humiliation that all airline travellers have to put up with now because of what a handful of insane Muslims did is something we all accept (begrudgingly) because it keeps us and our fellow travellers safer. The Arizona law is in the same vein. And it's about time.

Citizen Jane said...

Hi, Idna,

Murder should remain illegal in America. Walking on the streets of major cities--including Phoenix and Tucson should not.

I'm all for responsible immigration reform. This isn't it.

Idna said...

Walking on the streets of major cities is not and never has been illegal. Breaking the federal immigration laws IS and HAS BEEN illegal. The ENFORCEMENT of said laws is what we are talking about.

It should be Arizona's, and all states', obligation to protect it's citizens if the Feds aren't willing. While nanny politicians screw around legislating AND ENFORCING such laws as smoking, the amount of fat and sugar we consume, etc., there is a seriously huge elephant in the room that politicians are reluctant to address because of the sacred "Latino vote."

Instead of really working for the safety of US citizens, pols are more interested in their own re-elction. Not caring about the drug wars and increased violence that is moving north of the border day by day.

The saying "walk a mile in my shoes" is appropriate in this case, I think. While I've seen polls that say 70% of Arizona residents agree with their new law, it's citizens of other states who deign to pass judgement from their perceived moral superiority.

Six said...

Idna you misinterpret me - I do think our laws should be enforced, however this law is very poorly written, and takes local law enforcements focus away from the types of crime I believe they should be charged with stopping - and actually it even goes further and invites lawsuits if they use their discretion to choose not to pursue someone for not acting on 'reasonable suspicion' (whatever that actually can be defined as). This will undoubtedly snare LEGAL residents and citizens with the presumption of guilt leaving them to prove their innocence - that is not the constitutional system of which we were founded.

This law does not address the real problem - which is that our immigration policy is awful. It's two-fold, first we do not allow enough legal immigrants in every year to meet the demand for low-skilled labor (our quotas are far too low) and second the process to legally immigrate for work is far too cumbersome. Do you really think these - overwhelmingly a majority of - people who are here just to work would choose to use coyotes and live in the shadows or they would prefer to come through the gate legally and participate in society legally? If we had an effective and efficient immigrant policy for low skilled labor workers then border control could more effectively focus on the criminal element of those crossing for more nefarious and criminal reasons.

Idna said...

Hi Six,
You wish for "an effective and efficient immigrant policy for low skilled labor workers." I think everyone would agree with that. Problem is, BOTH sides have to accept and live by the provisions of the policy.

Right now, our southern border is like a broken dike. As long as the water is gushing in, why would you want to bring in more water to add to your flooding problem. The Arizona law (which by the way has been unbelievably mischaracterized)attempts to plug the dike. If that is ever achieved, and the flow of illegals is stopped, then maybe we can put into place the "effective and efficient immigration policy" that you talk about.

The Arizona law (SB 1070) mostly is a decision to actually enforce existing laws.

SB 1070 requires police to check with federal authorities on a person's immigration status, if officers have stopped that person for some legitimate reason and come to suspect that he or she might be in the U.S. illegally. The heart of the law is this provision: "For any lawful contact made by a law enforcement official or a law enforcement agency…where reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States, a reasonable attempt shall be made, when practicable, to determine the immigration status of the person…"

This "horrid law" that some are getting hysterical about, asks to see someone's ID. This is something that pertains to ALL of us. If a person is doing something illegal and is stopped, what's wrong with asking for his ID? You and I would be asked to produce our driver's license if we were speeding, for example.

When we board an airplane, we are asked to produce a government-issued photo ID, usually a driver's license or passport. When we make some credit or debit-card purchases in department stores, we are asked to produce a driver's license. To enter some office buildings, both private and government, security guards can ask us to produce a driver's license. When we go to doctors' offices and hospitals, we are asked to produce a driver's license. In a bar or nightclub, anyone who looks at all young is asked to produce a driver's license. And needless to say, if we have any encounter with police or other authorities, we are asked to produce a driver's license.

Since the 1940s, federal law has required non-citizens in this country to carry, on their person, the documentation proving they are here legally -- green card, work visa, etc. That hasn't changed.

So what's the BIG DEAL? Instead of burying their heads in the sand and pretending there's no problem, Arizonans are finally deciding to ACT to protect themselves and enforce the laws that have been around for years.

Six said...

It's best to read the law - which you can do here here.

A couple of important distinctions, first of all, it is not limited to 'legitimate stops', rather an officer can demand proof of citizenship after 'any lawful contact' (pg 1 line 20-22) which could be as simple as asking an officer for directions (which can then be used as a 'reasonable suspicion'). If you think this law will not be routinely abused, you live in a world of denial about LEOs (see AZ Maricopa County thug Arpio).

What is wrong with it is that as I stated before, it starts with the presumption of guilt and works backwards. An officer wishing to harass someone for information they think they may have, now has a simple excuse to toss anyone in jail while they 'verify' thier legal status even after providing generally accepted ID. Don't think so? There are plenty of examples. I don't think giving up essential liberties - such as the presumption of innocence or protection from unreasonable search - in exchange for some phantom, temporary security.

Also if you refer to page 2 lines 11-31, you will see the part where it swings the door wide open to sue law enforcement agencies if they allow thier officers discretion over thier 'reasonable suspicion' and do not always follow through with verifying. Again, a very bad law.

On page 4 lines 3-5 it makes it a state FELONY to have in your vehicle someone who is an not here legally. This means, if you are stopped and an officer SUSPECTS your passenger of not being a legal alien/resident, that person is presumed guilty as are you (of a felony no less!) and now it is up to you to prove your innocence (not the other way around). They will impound your car at your expense (which is very expensive) - and even if your passenger is proved to be a legal alien/resident, you still have to pay the impound/towing expenses. If you speak with an accent (or do not speak English well or at all), look foriegn or possess some other unfortunate characteristic which leaves in an officers mind 'resonable suspicion' (which is not defined) you had better have lots of evidence you are here legally at all times even if you were born here because again it will be presumed you are guilty until you can prove your innocence.

I won't even get in to all of the issues this creates for potential employers... which could be just your average family looking for a housekeeper.

The problem is a bad immigration policy... this is a prohibitionist-minded tactic that will not work and only foster more crime along with LEO abuse. We need these workers here - today. Thier situation is more depserate than the risk of being stopped/jailed and sent home. That is the problem. Without creating a safe, legal, efficient and sufficient means of being able to match good, hardworking, law abiding, family-oriented immigrants this problem will only continue to exist and further profit the very criminal side of the Coyotes and Mexican gangs who profit off of illegal immigration.

I think this will also cost Republican's elections as the rest of the country sees this law as really being targeting and abusive toward hispanics, in particular Mexicans. Whatever gains the 'Tea Party' had with independents - not Republicans - they will lose it over this issue.

Six said...

There are some in AZ who get it.

And to borrow from CATO, "Requiring successful enforcement of the current immigration laws before they can be changed is a non sequitur. It’s like saying, in 1932, that we can’t repeal the nationwide prohibition on alcohol consumption until we’ve drastically reduced the number of moonshine stills and bootleggers. But Prohibition itself created the conditions for the rise of those underground enterprises, and the repeal of Prohibition was necessary before the government could “get control” of its unintended consequences.".

tagskie said...

Nice blog you got here... Just droppin' by to say hi! http://www.arts-and-entertainment.info

Idna said...

On a related topic ... wonder how you all feel about the despicable actions of Live Oak school on May 5th?

How dare they tell Americans that they may NOT wear the American colors! Because of a pretend Mexican holiday? Cinco de Mayo is not even a holiday in most of Mexico except for a very tiny area where a battle took place in 1862.

What's next? Americans can't be patriotic on Bastille Day? Give me a break! And I speak as a naturalized citizen. I do not expect Americans to honor any holidays of the country of my birth, or any other country's. And especially at the expense of punishing American patriotism. Shameful!

Idna said...

On a related topic .... I wonder how you all feel about the despicable actions of Live Oak school on May 5th.

How dare they punish American students for wearing American colors?!

Never mind that Cinco de Mayo is not a national holiday in Mexico. Most people don't even know that it's about a minor battle with the French in 1862 (caused because Mexico decided to suspend interest payments to foreign countries angering Mexico's major creditors.)

What's next? Do we have to hide American flags on Bastille Day? This resentment for American pride and patriotism sickens me. And I speak as a naturalized citizen.

I can be proud of my heritage, while at the same time embracing my new homeland. I would not expect Americans to celebrate a holiday of the country of MY birth while denying them the right to show pride in their nation.

Idna said...

Hey Jane ... I posted the first comment and it disappeared so I thought it didn't work. Then when I posted the second one saw that the first is showing up also. You may remove one of them. Thanks.

Citizen Jane said...

Hi, Idna,

To tell the truth, I saw a couple of articles on the Live Oak controversy but didn't feel that I had enough information to form an opinion.

Showing patriotism is fine. However, school personnel often have to confront and discourage racism and a pervasive tendency of kids to form an "us against them" mentality. Without in-depth interviews of staff and students, it's impossible for outsiders to tell what the motivation or the message was of the students wanting to wear flag shirts on that particular day. And I don't think the whole thing merited national attention.

The American flag is a symbol of many wonderful things that I love. It's also all too often a symbol of ignorance and bigotry. I have no idea which set of values it may have stood for in this particular instance.