From many Americans, though from fewer who have any idea what they are talking aout, you could get the idea that illegal immigrants are brown sludge, the lazy and shiftless, the least intelligent of their countries, those unable or unwilling to make a living at home, who therefore go the the US to live on welfare. A certain paucity of logic informs much of this. If they come to live on welfare, how do they take the jobs of Americans, a crime of which they are regularly accused? But I note this only in passing. I do not mean to suggest that logic or knowledge have a place in politics.
The fact is that the illegals come to work, and do, well and hard, which is why conservative patriotic busnessmen block attempts to restrict immigration.
Which would be easy to do. Again, they come to work. Don’t hire them, and they won’t come. Illegals don’t take jobs from Americans. Americans give them the jobs.
But, whatever you think of the Latin hordes, it may be interesting to know a little about them. Let’s wing it.
Consider a man of twenty living in the slums of , say, Tegucigalpa with his wife and two small children. The local economy is a disaster. He can barely feed his kids, much less send them to school. “Barely feed them” is not a concept many Americans understand. It means that their stomachs hurt, that their physical development is threatened, that they cry and ask for food. Any parent who doesn’t do anything possible to feed them, to include robbing banks, is irresponsible. Ask yourself what you would do.
So Pablo and Maria talk it over, and decide that the only way out is for him to go to the US, work, send money home and, just possibly, eventually bring the family to America. There are good reasons why Americans might not approve his plan. From Pablo’s point of view, watching his kids starve, it is the only plan.
Getting from Honduras to San Francisco or South Carolina is dangerous, very dangerous. Crossing the Guat border means braving the Mexican police, who are brutal and corrupt.Typically the migrants go north through Mexico by riding on the roofs of cargo trains. It is not for the weak. On the trains they are subject to attacks by gangs, as for example Mara Salvatrucha, products of Reagan’s romantic meddling of El Salvador. The “Mara” is from “marabunta,” a swarm of army ants. The Maras are savage, sadistic, and live by robbing migrants of the money they have saved for the coyote, often beating them into cripples and raping the women. I would much rather do a tour on the ground in Afghanistan than ride those trains. It is safer. In Afghanistan you eat, do not have to drink from filthy pools beside the tracks, and do not spend nights on top of a box car in jeans and tea shirt during a sleet storm. Call the migrants anything you like, but leave out
Women also make this trip, for the same reason: to send money home for their kids. Don’t, please, tell me about oppressed co-eds at Dartmouth.
So Pablo, perhaps months later, gets to Laredo. Let us say that he started out with $2000 US, which is roughly what a coyote costs, and has managed not to be robbed of it. If he has it, it was probably put together by his extended family by forgoing shoes, food, what have you. He now finds himself in a city that preys on people like Pablo. He has little idea what he is doing. Twenty years in a slum in Teguce doesn’t make you wise in the ways of the Mexican-American frontier. The police will rob him, perhaps torturing him to find out where he has stashed the money, if indeed he has any, and send him back to Honduras. Nasty gangs will do the same, except for deporting him. Migrants drown trying to swim the Rio Bravo.
Several ways exist of crossing into the US. You can find a desert crossing poorly guarded and hope not to be killed by rattlesnakes or get lost and die of thirst. In the Mexican press I have read of tunnels thorough which 150 illegals pass per night. At $2k each, that’s $300,000 a night in a great tax bracket. Or a coyote can get you across and, if he doesn’t just take your money and disappear, he may put you into a van, and off you go. Bingo.
Once away from the border, things get easier for Pablo. He may work a few days to get bus fare to Raleigh-Durham, where he has a friend. With the friend’s help, he gets a job in construction. Here the American national hypocrisy works to his advantage. The construction firm of course knows perfectly well that Pablo is undocumented. Companies love illegals. It means that they can pay him dirt, no benefits, no Social Security, and he can’t complain without getting deported. In any contest between money and patriotism, money wins. American immigration officials catch just enough Pablos to keep the rest intimidated, but not enough to reduce the supply of cheap labor. It is a sweetheart deal for businessmen.
Pablo may or may not be a model uncitizen, may drink too much, may use drugs,or go into crime. Or he may not. He is very likely to send money, substantial amounts of it, back to Tegucigalpa. In Jalisco, where I live in Mexico, remittances from migrants are a crucial part of the economy. Pablo also is not unlikely to begin planning to bring his family to the US.
Family values. Putting his life on the line for his children. The work ethic. All that.
Is massive immigration good for the US? I doubt it. Are all the illegals wonderful people? No. In the long run will there be a happy ending? I don’t know; to date there hasn’t been.
Yet men and women who will claw and save for a coyote, and ride that godawful train, at dead serious risk of being raped, robbed, tortured and beaten into medical curiousities left beside the tracks, who will cross into a hostile country whose language they do not know, and live in constant fear of being caught, all to feed their families and just maybe give them a better life in a better place—I think they deserve other than utter contempt.