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Tucson Weekly Squeezing The Poor

We Ought To Be Helping Mexicans Become U.S. Citizens, Not Extorting Them

By Jeff Smith

OCTOBER 13, 1997:  I BELIEVE WE'VE already abundantly documented the fact that it's no fun being an illegal alien. Matter of fact, Cat Stevens had a hit tune to that very effect. Back before he changed his name to Sheik Yerbouti or whatever, and became alien to everybody but Allah.

Not only is illegal alienation unfun, it's also unfunny, at least as far as certain lightly complected sorts, and the excrutiatingly politically correct go. I used the example of Canadians in a recent column--to highlight the preposterousness of the INS policy of stop-and-search where suspects fit their "wetback profile"--and to judge from some of the letters received in response, you'd have thought I called our plaid-clad cousins to the north a bunch of niggers or something. I can't recall a more disproportionate reaction to a citation of nationality since Hector Gonzales at Channel Six got his panties in a bunch when I referred to the high percentage of Swedish- and Danish-Americans who vote in the New Hampshire presidential primary. I'm still trying to parse the logic by which he argued I had committed an ethnic slur in that instance; and as to the present instance, well, some of my best friends are Canadian.

And all of them are niggers. And for elucidation on that little matter, you're going to have to buy me dinner, a couple scotches, and commit yourself to an evening of semantics, metaphysics and tangential discourse on subjects as various as agronomy and firearms. It would be nice, too, if you could enlighten me as to the average height of an adult male North American bison.

Anyway it's tough enough being an illegal alien in these parts without the government blackmailing you for it. That's the only plausible explanation I can devise to comprehend this thousand-dollar fee the Immigration and Naturalization Service, a unit of the Department of Justice, is levying against those living in the U.S. without benefit of local birth, a green card or some such permission to be here beyond visiting Disneyland or going to college.

Last week Congress acted at the 11th hour to extend for three more weeks the deadline for illegals to get the hell out of the country, even if they intend to proceed with the paper chase to obtain citizenship, a green card or whatever...

...Unless they're married to a U.S. citizen, or an alien with a green card, or have adult children who are U.S. citizens, or a couple of other oddball technicalities...and pay a $1,000 fine. Pay the extortion and you can file the paperwork at an INS office close to home. Don't pay the fine and you gotta go back to Guanajuato and file from the Yankee consulate there.

Excuse me, but doesn't this sound a whole lot like extortion? (I guess the blackmail metaphor was less apt, but I employed it because blackmail, the word, serves as both noun and verb, whereas extortion is strictly a noun, and the verb extort didn't fit the flow of the sentence.) Regardless, it amounts to an outright case of discrimination against the poor, and in case you hadn't noticed, illegal aliens tend not to be your most bucks-up class of folks. Unless you're talking Saudi students at the UA.

Now you may argue that we ought not waste our sympathies on illegal aliens because, after all, they're illegal. But how innately illegal is illegal alienation, really?

Hardly at all.

Up until the Gadsden Purchase, our neighborhood was Mexico. A couple 300 years before that, it was simply home to whomever lived here. The Mayas, Aztecs, Yaquis, they might chuck a spear at you, cut your heart out and sacrifice you to the rising sun, but they wouldn't pull you over in a pale green truck, lock you up for a few days and then deport you, all for offering no more offense than being on their side of some imaginary line in the sand, without an arbitrary piece of documentation. Quo vadis, civilization?

Y dónde vas, Señora Libertad?

I allude to the Lady Liberty who stands at the mouth of the Hudson River, begging the world to send us its poor, its tired, its huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

If ever an INS profile fit a class of people, that description fits the average folk who brave our southern border, seeking work and a better standard of living than they left back in Mexico or Central or South America.

With damned few exceptions--probably fewer than the percentage of native-born U.S. citizens who stray from the path of righteousness--the illegal aliens of the Mexican border are the salt of the earth.

Almost literally. They come here with stars in their eyes and calluses on their hands, conditioned and willing to do the kind of work most gringos have forgotten how to do. Or tried to forget. They work, they spend, they pay taxes, and they contribute in important ways to our economy, our culture, our cohesiveness as a nation.

They are an asset to America...the part of America they left, and the part of America we know as the United States thereof.

They are not criminals, they are illegals, and only thus by status. In the name of humanity and self-interest, we ought to be working to change their status to legal. And without all the hassle, the harassment, and the thousand-dollar shakedown.


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