The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Monday, October 22, 2007


There’s a sad story that appeared in today’s South Florida Sun Sentinel:
The wages were meager, so Guatemalan dishwasher Pedro Zapeta made thrift his motto, and it paid off. Over almost 10 years he saved $59,000, a few dollars at a time, keeping the money in a small sack.

The Zapeta work history is typical in South Florida. He rode a bicycle to work in a small restaurant, where he labored as a dishwasher for 13 – 14 hours a day earning $12K to $15K per year. He entered the USA illegally in 1996 and traveled to SoFla. He worked, he went to church, and he played in pick-up soccer games.

After 10 years of saving, he decided to go home. Again from the Sun Sentinel:
When he was ready to go home, customs agents at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport found the bills tucked into several envelopes, among music CDs and a pair of jeans. They confiscated the full amount, citing a federal regulation that requires travelers leaving the country to fill out a form if they are carrying more than $10,000 in cash.

Two years later, Zapeta, an undocumented immigrant, is still trying to get his money back.

"It was ignorance. I didn't know you can't carry money like that," said Zapeta, a 39-year-old Mayan man with four years of schooling. "I saved everything. I wanted to build a house [in Guatemala]. My family's house is rotting. The ceiling has collapsed."

What Pedro Zapeta did was wrong – he entered the US illegally and probably owed income taxes on the money he earned (although very little, given his income). He should be fined and deported, but the fine should be very small and the rest of his savings should be returned to him. If that doesn’t happen, his prosecution is both unjust and mean-spirited. Sometimes, as the saying goes, “the letter of the law is an ass,” and this is one of those times. His case is being appealed.

But the broader issue of illegal immigration will remain as long as there is an economic incentive for people to head North. The “solutions” proposed to date are questionable at best. The New York Times comments:
Let’s concede an indisputable point: people should not be in the country illegally. But forget about the border for a moment — let’s talk about the 12 million who are already here. What should be done about them?

A. Deport them all.

B. Find out who they are. Distinguish between criminals and people who just want to work. Get them on the books. Make them pay what they owe — not just the income, Social Security, sales and property taxes they already pay, but all their taxes, and a fine. Get a smooth legal flow of immigrants going, and then concentrate on catching and deporting bad people.

C. Catch the few you can, and harass and frighten the rest. Treat the entire group as a de facto class of criminals, and disrupt or shout down anyone or any plan seen as abetting their evildoing.

Forget A. Congress tried a version of B, but it was flattened by outrage.

And so here we are at C. It’s a policy that can’t work; it’s too small-bore, too petty, too narrow. And all the while it’s not working, it can only lead to the festering of hate. Americans are a practical and generous people, with a tolerant streak a mile wide. But there is a combustible strain of nativism in this country, and it takes only a handful of match tossers to ignite it.

The new demagogues are united in their zeal to uproot the illegal population. They do not discriminate between criminals and the much larger group of ambitious strivers. They champion misguided policies, like a mythically airtight border fence and a reckless campaign of home invasions. And they summon the worst of America’s past by treating a hidden group of vulnerable people as an enemy to be hated and vanquished, not as part of a problem to be managed.

The immigration problem is extremely difficult and at best, we can hope to manage it reasonably well. Solutions? Not in my lifetime.

But when we manage immigration, we have to recognize the the vast majority of immigrants are NOT gang members, terrorists, or welfare cheats. The majority simply want to work, and we (that's a bipartisan "we") have to develop a way to filter out the bad guys and allow the good guys a chance to better themselves and their families. Ignoring the problem won't solve it, but draconian "solutions" won't solve it either.