Imprisonment II; Immigration

“No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark.”
― Warsan Shire, Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth

“We asked for workers. We got people instead.”
― Max Frisch

Almost from the moment he was born, he was the most appealing member of his family. The room brightened up when his mother carried him into our house. As he grew up it was easy for me to notice that everyone smiled when he walked in. The hugs that he got seemed to last a bit longer than the ones anyone else received.

He was smart, funny, handsome… One could go on and on. His father was absent for most of his life, but that never seemed to alter his disposition. As he grew up, he developed an interest in engines, and he learned to use his charm and charisma to his advantage. By the time that he was in his mid-twenties he had a supervisory position with a ton of responsibility. Life was good. His extended family was proud.

Then he disappeared. For years. I heard that he had shown up for his father’s funeral. Quite a feat, because few people in the family were even aware that his father had died, since he was also a frequent “disappearer.” I got snippets of information here and there, but many members of my family are prone to manufacturing or repurposing news. There was nothing that I could unequivocally believe in.

Many years later, I was told that he was back. He agreed to meet me for lunch. I found a man that looked much older than his stated age. His smile was intact, but the joy that it brought to others was gone. He looked tired. Serious. Like a man who was on a mission, aware that time was running out.

I cannot share most of what he told me, because I do not know if he has paid all his debts to society, or worse, to unsavory partners. After he disappeared, he became an expert on smuggling. He graduated from goods to people. He became the best at his trade, to the point where he could charge whatever he wanted, and he could find people with significant resources that would pay his fee. For years he made, and spent, more than $100,000 a week.

“I have done everything, Paco”

He was not bragging. He looked to the floor, almost as if he were trying to hide underneath the table. His eyes seemed to age as he talked.

“You name it. Crazy stuff.”

He nodded from one side to the other. We were outside, in the sun; we were served a wonderful meal. I could only perceive cloudy shades of black between us.

What made you quit?

He smiled.

“On a Friday night I went to bed with this woman that I had just met in Miami. On Monday morning I woke up in Philadelphia. I had no idea of how I got there.”

Another smile. Not one of joy or celebration.

“I thought of my father. How he kept running away from us. Even when he was home, we never knew what mood he would be in from day to day. How he died alone, and nobody cared. I found an AA meeting and walked in.”

He found a woman who believed in him. He tried to go back to work. He lasted two days.

“I cannot be inside all day. I cannot have a schedule. If I had stayed, I would have disappeared again.”

He did odd jobs. He befriended an inmate at the local hard-core prison. He went to visit once a week, then twice, then another inmate joined their meetings. When I spoke to him the prison had given him a large room that he used daily to talk to dozens of inmates. All of them are “clean.” His charisma never left him.

We parted with a hug. One of the long ones that our family members always gave him. For the past few months, I have tried to get in touch with him. He remains hard to reach, physically and otherwise.

Immigration. Our blessing and our curse. Left-wingers like me are fond of relating all the immigrant success stories that we know. We never mention the gun runners, drug mules, and money launderers that manage to sneak into our country. We fail to mention that there is no way that with current procedures we can tell, with reasonable certainty, if this person who is being allowed (or not) access to our country will turn out to be an asset or a burden.

Fabulous amounts of money are involved. Reliable sources estimate that between 5 and 10 billion dollars a year are paid by people who are desperate to gain access to our country. Imagine what could be accomplished if we used this money to adequately screen all job and asylum applicants. There would be plenty left over to pay for a few months’ rent and health insurance. With plenty in the kitty to add evening English lessons, and social workers that would help them adapt and assimilate.

In addition, by most estimates there are ten million undocumented immigrants living relatively “normal” lives in the US. Many of them pay social security taxes, and all of them pay sales taxes. I have not seen any accurate estimates as to how much income tax would be collected if they were to form part of the legal system. A large majority of economists agree that immigration enhances the quality of life in the communities where it becomes prevalent.

But no! We prefer to make criminals out of people who are looking for the same things that we expect to have every day. We create an illegal industry that makes instant millionaires out of a few smart people with initiative. Like we did with Prohibition, which in case that no one remembers, was a dismal failure, and gave birth to many fortunes.

Many reasonable people worry that we will be overrun by people who will become a burden to our social systems. Any plan that aims to make immigration easier needs to include outreach programs to the countries that most undocumented immigrants come from. Nobody wants to leave home if they are safe and well-fed at home.

Labor leaders worry that wages will be depressed. This part of the problem I am not an expert on, but I recommend that you read Matthew Yglesias´s latest book. He is certain that the US could easily accommodate a billion people and become much stronger as it grows. After all, large populations are the major reason that China and India have become first-line powers. We can do this.

The main problem is that our legislators have been intimidated into not wanting to discuss this issue. Any reasonable politician who advocates for doing more research and looking for practical solutions will be ostracized and defeated. Which makes me wonder if there is big money behind this. I am certain that powerful billionaires are terrified that the US might come up with a fair and workable system to screen and employ immigrants. Many of our politicians, as usual, will follow where the money leads them, even if they are not 100% certain as to who their big donors are.


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