My Turn: Immigration crackdown hits home
Last week, a friend and former coworker nearly died crossing into the U.S. from Mexico. For 15 years, he worked two full-time jobs to support his wife and child. He paid taxes, made friends and built a life at Tahoe.
In 108-degree heat, dehydration forced him onto the main road where immigration officers picked him up and deported him.
Did he truly deserve being treated like a stranger to this country and community?
Recently, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) came to Tahoe. Rumors are flying. Some say that gang fights sparked the sweep. Others say this is par for the course; it happens every summer.
Whatever the impetus, ICE is knocking on doors, walking into businesses and setting up checkpoints to search for people without legal status. Several restaurants have lost employees. Other businesses were tipped off and secured their employee entrances. (ICE requires permission or a warrant to enter any building.)
The crackdown hits many Latinos at Lake Tahoe. A mother without papers was taken from her home ” and from her children. At Chevron, a woman confronted ICE officers who were interrogating a man. They replied, “This is none of your business.”
Some might agree. However, I write because I believe that if more people knew, they would question national policies and local practices that have their neighbors behind closed doors this week.
We are not talking about strangers. We are talking about classmates, teammates, co-workers, friends and family. We are talking about people who have lived at Tahoe for years, raising children and working jobs that help keep the economy afloat.
When will national policies reflect reality rather than ideology? Some 12 million people live without legal status in the U.S. ” 4 percent of the total population. In 2007, undocumented workers added roughly $9 billion to Social Security coffers. (An estimated 75 percent of undocumented immigrants pay Social Security tax.)
The system is not flawless. Without adequate health care, poor people of all ethnicities and nationalities burden hospitals when they use emergency rooms for simple doctor visits. Workers falsify documents to secure jobs and access services. People with family in the States cross illegally rather than wait the five to 22 years for visa approval.
Still, as a nation of immigrants, most citizens’ ancestors came to America seeking a better life. I wonder how many of us would commit a misdemeanor to do the same today. Would we watch our children starve or go uneducated simply on principle? Or would we cross a border without permission and work as hard as we could so our children might have a brighter future?
What can we do? Aside from voting for sensible immigration policies, a few local ideas include: Have translators in schools; celebrate International Workers’ Day; watch “A Day Without A Mexican”; Learn our basic rights. More than anything we can show compassion. We can stand with our neighbors, share our stories and build a community based on respect, hard work and friendship.