A Tale Of Illegal Immigration

Susan Page
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Wednesday - April 19, 2006
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Rosa was 17 when she braved the Rio Grande River into Texas. In those days she would’ve been called a “wetback” - the not-so-polite nickname used for illegals who crossed into Texas by water. She was caught, briefly held in jail in Del Rio, then was sent back to Ciudad Acuna, Mexico, where her life was poor and hopeless. She tried it again - this time eluding capture - and wed a man with U.S. citizenship and eventually became a citizen herself.

Today, in her 50s with grown children, she cares for elderly folks in their homes in San Angelo, Texas. Her hourly pay isn’t great, but she’s willing to stay all day and night seven days a week, if necessary, and she still takes money back to her mother in Mexico. Rosa has nurtured many widows as they faced the confusion and loneliness of old age. My mother was one.

For a short while, before my sister and I intervened, Mother was paying Rosa without taking out Social Security (understandable, given Mom’s mental state). When we told Rosa that legally we had to take out the required amount, she was very agreeable.

“Just tell me what ju want, that’s all. I jus need to know exactly what I’m supposed to do,” she said sincerely.

As a kid growing up in West Texas, where Mexicans, migrants from poor border towns, were both resented and needed, I accepted the uneasy dichotomy as “just the way it was.” Ranchers and farmer hired “wetbacks” at low wages to do the back-breaking work, just as was done here in the sugar cane fields with migrant workers from Japan and the Philippines. The workers in turn sent their pay back to family back home. Everybody got what they wanted.

Yes, the whole thing was illegal, but not like stealing a car or breaking into the house “illegal.” It was a whispered crime that no one ever heard with both ears. And the unspoken threat of arrest kept migrant workers in line.

Like the wife who dislikes her husband but stays for the security, and the husband who hates his wife but stays because she’s a great cook and a good mother, the work-er/farmer partners in their “illegal” marriage of convenience and need have done this dance with the devil for as long as farms and ranches have existed in Texas, Arizona and California, even up into Oregon. And all along the way, it has confounded many Americans who believe as I do that “illegal” is not an ambiguous term. Either enforce the law or change the term.

“Jus tell me what ju want, that’s all.”

But political befuddlement, shortsightedness, greed and voter apathy have impeded solutions. Right answers are too hard politically. And after 9-11, Americans’ understandable fear of Muslim terrorists slipping through leaky U.S. borders has many wanting to throw out the industrious farm and domestic workers with the drug runners, human traffickers and common criminals. There are two different issues which our national media and politicos have irresponsibly confused into one: border security and illegal immigration. They both need immediate attention, but separate policy.

What I fear is that without a rational, carefully crafted immigration policy, our country will become little more than a land mass on which any group from anywhere can create its own separate little nation without knowledge of or regard for our founding principles, the sacrifices made, and those who gave their lives so that America would be a land of laws, fair and enforced for all.

I’m afraid a hyphenated-American, culturally separated, divided-by-race society has already taken hold in some parts of our country.

It must be crystal clear to those who want to reap the benefits of living in the greatest country on earth that we’re a land of laws, and each new naturalized American must pledge in English, no matter how broken, to uphold them. Then, our government must enforce them unequivocally.

Like Rosa, a good American, said, “Just tell us what you want, that’s all.”

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