My father had to get in the back of the line; so should everyone else


Jim Spiri

Immigration! It is the hot-topic buzzword at the moment that no one really wants to talk honestly about. That is exactly why I must speak about it now. I have found in all my life experiences that dodging an issue only results in more complications down the road.

For the record, I am the son of an immigrant. I am first-generation. My father first came to America working on a boat. At one point, he was deported back to his native land because of improper documentation procedures. It took him another eight years to become a legal, naturalized citizen of the United States of America.

In 1963, eight years after I was born, my father became an American citizen. I explained this situation to my New Mexico House representative, Mr. Moe Maestas, in September one afternoon on my lunch hour at a rally in support of people without legal status at the Roundhouse in Santa Fe.

I asked Representative Maestas a simple question. I inquired, “Mr. Maestas, I am the son of an immigrant who came here to this country improperly the first time and was forced to go back to his native land and return properly and go through the procedures, which took him another eight years. Why, sir, should these folks here be given special treatment and not be required to do the same thing?”

My representative, Mr. Maestas, negatively responded loudly that because my skin color appeared to be much whiter than his, my father was given special treatment. I then explained to Mr. Maestas that my father’s skin color was actually a much darker shade than his own. (My father came from southern Italy.) At this, I appealed to Mr. Maestas’ sense of legal matters (he is a lawyer by trade), and at that, he became negatively vocal and created a scene for all to see.

I stood my ground, kept my cool, and realized, immigration issues are really hot topic in New Mexico.

Times are different than they were 40 years ago

I have known this all my life. I grew up near the border in Doña Ana County, where I worked in the fields picking chile and learned much about my fellow workers and their native lands. In those days, many came over legally to work in the agricultural industry of Southern New Mexico, all usually under the watchful eyes of “la migra,” the Border Patrol who used to run around in green and white vans looking for people without legal status who were overstaying their welcome.

Flash forward to 2011. Times are indeed much different than they were 40 years ago in the chile fields of Southern New Mexico. No one disputes the fact that New Mexico is overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of people without legal status who have overstayed their time here and are overburdening social infrastructure such as educational facilities, medical facilities, and police and first responders.

It has become so out of control that the City of Albuquerque just last week realized that it has had on its payroll as a fireman, for the past 10 years, someone without legal status who has a felony situation on his record.

Probably the most critical component affecting immigration issues here in New Mexico is the drug war in the world’s most dangerous city, Juárez, just a stone’s throw across the border from New Mexico. All would also agree that the war being waged by the cartels is one main reason for the high influx of people without legal status continually flooding across the river daily into New Mexico.


Don’t focus only on Latin America

The immigration situation in New Mexico is broken. All agree.

What most people here in New Mexico don’t realize is that the flow of people without legal status entering into our state as well as our country is not and should not only be focused on those coming up from Mexico and other parts south. Actually, it is spread across a whole gambit of nations. People from all around the world realize that entering the United States illegally is relatively easy.

There are tens of thousands of illegal Chinese entrants into this country every year that no one here in New Mexico ever talks about, not to mention those from other parts of the Orient that enter illegally to the United States, usually through Hawaii. And, as some have noted, the northern border with Canada is a relatively easy point of entry for those seeking to come into our country illegally for one reason or another.

So, what is my point here?

The point is that illegal entry into the United States is not an issue limited to those coming from Mexico, as my Representative Moe Maestas may think. Perhaps he has stereotyped today’s immigrants. Maybe he thinks only those from Mexico are important and should receive special treatment. I would strongly disagree with that.

Illegal entry into the United States is simply that. Illegal. My father found this out the hard way, was forced to turn around, go back, and come in through the front door and go through the process. This he accomplished long before the age of information and computers. He paid the price and went through the system. That is what everyone else should be forced to do.

The solution

The concept of a simple fix to this problem is not that hard to grasp. We have all the capability necessary to round up probably over 90 percent of those here illegally at the moment. We could do this nationally in short order.

Just as in the days when I was picking chile in Doña Ana County, “la migra” can find and send them directly back over the border. Only this time, we shut the border down. We all know the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are coming to an end. Whether we were successful or not in our goals there is a topic for discussion at a later date. However, we will have plenty of military resources available to at least secure our southern border from Brownsville, Texas to San Diego, Calif., with U.S. Army infantry personnel as well as Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California national guard members, who were originally set up to protect the domestic home front in the first place.

Once this is accomplished, we then look at those desiring to come into this country, specifically from Mexico, and offer them something akin to “most favored nation status” – only this time, regarding a guest worker program, we should up the quota maybe by a factor of four, to welcome those wanting to work in the agricultural areas where the need is.

It may seem a painful first step; however, if we as a society do not take this immediate step, we no longer will be able to say that there is “room for everyone living in the promiseland,” as the song by Willie Nelson says.

I would tell Mr. Maestas that I am not a racist. He should have realized that not all immigrants and first-generation Americans look alike. Had he stayed with the conversation longer he would have realized that my maternal grandfather was also an immigrant and came to Ft. Bliss in 1915, under general “Black Jack” Pershing dealing with immigration issues along the border almost 100 years ago. However, my New Mexico House representative was too busy trying to gain some more undocumented Democrats to listen to me or anyone else that really wants to solve the problem of illegal immigration.

Spiri is a combat war photographer and writer. Find him online at

15 thoughts on “My father had to get in the back of the line; so should everyone else

  1. Mr. Spiri is entitled to his views on immigration, but not entitled to misrepresent his interaction with Mr. Maestas at the Roundhouse. I was standing right next to Maestas as Spiri approached him. Spiri did not approach Maestas with the intent to have a conversation- rather, he approached him very aggressively trying to provoke Maestas. At first, Spiri pretended to want a friendly conversation with Maestas, but it soon became obvious that Spiri was trying to bait Maestas into an altercation. Maestas tried to respond to Spiri’s questioning, but kept getting interrupted when Spiri didn’t get the answer he wanted.

    At one point Maestas stepped aside stating that he was done with Spiri and wanted to listen to the speakers, but Spiri stepped in front of him and got back in Maestas’ face demanding that Maestas talk with him. Yes- in an honest effort to seek answers we should all be able to engage our elected officials, but it should be done respectfully, not the way Spiri approached Maestas. It is unfortunate that Spiri used space on this blog to mischaracterize his actions and try to blast Maestas using lies.

  2. No durablebrad, I actually know what censorship is and it doesn’t include having my feelings hurt. If you’ve paid attention around here, you’ll find very few instances where Icarus Phoenix and I are close to agreement but we both know better. If your comments were not posted by Heath, based on my own experience BTW, I’m sure there’s a very legitimate reason. Don’t take it personally and rest assured, you aren’t being victimized by some conspiracy.

  3. Here is a link to the Federal Court system statistics. If you look at the total number of civil and criminal cases filed and disposed of each year you will begin to get an idea of the logistics being proposed. Currently the number of these cases is in the neighborhood of 600,000. Six-hundred thousand. Does anybody think dropping 13.5 MILLION new cases on system currently straining to process 600,000 is remotely feasible? Really??
    In an era where almost every federal, state, county and city government is struggling to maintain court, police, prison and healthcare systems how would it be possible to add 13.5 million to the system? Healthcare you say? Yep, once you detain an illegal immigrant you are responsible for their healthcare until their case is concluded. I’d love to hear how those who propose to round up 13.5 million folks and deport them plan to provide the 6-fold increase in courts, lawyers, detention, healthcare and all the other requirements for these detainees. Any ideas?

  4. For an argument as hot and sensitive as this one I really like the level of cool-headedness seen in the comments for this story. I think most of us here can sympathize with the spirit of Mr. Spiri’s sentiment and its unfortunate that Mr. Maestas could not offer a better and more nuanced defense for his position. That being, said Mr. Spiri’s drive-by-insult of Mr. Maestas (“my New Mexico House representative was too busy trying to gain some more undocumented Democrats”) reeks of innuendo that in my opinion betrays his larger points. Whatever.

    At any rate, it is very debatable as to how much it would cost to remove all of these undocumented entrants – perhaps FAIR (notorious as a hotbed of xenophobia) and its estimates are correct and it might be cheaper to remove them, but that leads us to the question of whether it truly is desirable to do so. As it is, we would need a tremendous increase in manpower and physical resources to arrest, try, jail, and deport so many millions of people. It seems disingenuous to believe that such a feat could be accomplished without a significant deterioration of all US citizens’ rights – for example, could we really expect such a new large bureaucracy to simply hang its hat at the end of its job? With the $$$ and political from the growing prison industry don’t count on it – they’d simply look for a new “big bad wolf.” The human cost of dividing families and the “violence” (in the emotional sense) that would ensue from such harsh policies makes it an even less moral a policy.

    And as for using the Army and Nat’l Guard as they were in World War I amid the threat from Gen. Pancho Villa after the Columbus situation…I invite anyone who is interested to read John S. D. Eisenhower’s Intervention!: The United States and the Mexican Revolution, 1913-1917 for a look at how those times weren’t exactly the way Mr. Spiri portrays them in column. I would hope that we can, to borrow a phrase from Jaime Estrada’s recent post here, look “past the rhetoric” of both extremes of the border issue and institute a major, fundamental reform of the system that allows for people to pursue a pathway to citizenship while holding them accountable by having them pay back taxes and so forth.

    Ironically, back when the border was more permeable than it is now most illegal entrants to the US left after a short period because, while they liked the opportunities in the US, they preferred the familiarity of back home. Perhaps that might be a key in solving this – giving immigrants the means to earn a decent wage in the US but also fostering conditions that might make it desirable for them to return home once their work is done wherein they can use what they earned to encourage greater economic and social development back home. Just a thought.

  5. quercus1 and MarkBest both put up estimates for much unauthorized immigrants cost the U.S. Kudos to MarkBest for using citations, instead of just (apparently) making up a number. FAIR’s newer number is a loss of $20B annually, federally, and $80B on the state/local levels.

    Then again, a more comprehensive view (pdf from the CBO) points out that solid numbers on this don’t really exist anywhere, since a lot of studies that say they are about the economic impact of unauthorized immigrants are instead about immigrants in general.

    So deporting all unauthorized immigrants, if it costs $215B, is apparently more expensive than 10 years of not deporting them.

    Plus whatever emotional/social damage you might be causing to people by demanding that they leave the country, but, hey, caring about human emotions is so 20th century…

  6. Looks like my previous comment got censured and removed. What I said was not politically correct but the truth.

    I suggest you start your own web site and put your own (real) name and reputation at stake with the content you allow. Otherwise. I don’t think your complaint has anything to do with free speech or censorship, regardless if your feelings were hurt.

  7. Looks like my previous comment got censured and removed. What I said was not politically correct but the truth.

  8. There have been many studies that show that in the long run, deportation of all illegal aliens would actually be cheaper than allowing them to stay.

    I would like to add that I am not necessarily endorsing mass deportation. I am merely attempting to make a point that it is more expensive to permit illegal aliens to remain in the country. There are easier and cheaper ways of doing it, in my opinion.

    The Center for Immigration Studies says that even though illegal aliens contribute $4,200 per household to the federal government, they also impose a cost of $6,950 each. So the final cost to the government would be about $10 billion a year plus the cost of all the benefits they reap (housing, medical, schools, in-state college tuition etc)


    Cost of expelling 12 million illegal immigrants: $215 billion,

    The Estimated Cost of illegal immigration,

    The Costs of Illegal Immigration
    Illegals Cost Feds $10 Billion a Year; Amnesty Would Nearly Triple Cost,

  9. Actually the Obama administration has almost deported a million people since he took office. The claim we can’t deport the 12-15 million here is blatantly false. If an administration that really doesn’t want to enforce immigration laws can deport that many, an administration that wanted to enforce the law could easily remove 3 times that.
    President Eisenhower deported close to a million using just 750 BP agents. Another estimated half a million left on their own.

    As we have seen a policy of enforcement works not only by deportation, but by attrition. You make conditions so unfavorable that many illegal aliens repatriate themselves.Today we are seeing illegal aliens leaving states where enforcement is becoming a priority. Currently a mass exodus is happening in Alabama.

    The cost to remove illegal aliens is small in comparison to the financial burden they have placed on this country. Estimated costs to both federal and states combined for illegal aliens is near 100 billion a year. We can continue the monetary bleeding illegal immigration causes or we can end it once and for all. All we really need is the political will to do so..

  10. Very well said Mr. Spiri, and elected reps deserve only the amount of respect they earn by representing you and your views and working to improve our society through government. You obviously have given Mr. Maestas this just due in that regard, bravo!

  11. For what it’s worth, Mr. Spiri, when trying to appeal to peoples’ common senses, its best not to end on a random insult of your elected representatives.

    As otis points out, “rounding up” 90% of Americans who have overstayed their legal welcome (or never had a legal welcome in the first place) is not going to be cheap or easy, and I somewhat doubt we actually have the capability necessary to do so without letting either the police, INS, or a combination thereof crack down on civil liberties more than they already do. People avoid talking about the difficult reality because this solution, which is the only one consistent with current U.S. law, is highly impractical.

    Which is why the political climate has tried to move on to other solutions which involve changing current U.S. law.

  12. No easy solutions here. Maybe history will teach us something however. What did we do to secure our borderers when we were in the First and Second World Wars? I think we made every effort to secure the borders of the USA. Does anyone think it strange that we as a country have not made similar efforts to do the same here by at the very least establishing the capacity for individuals to move across the border in an expeditious and fair fashion? The drug and human traficking issues just add additionla fuel to the fire.

    The risks here are real and substantial. But, we have a legislature that is incapable about resolving such issues and a President and Congress with the same problem. God help us.

  13. Let’s do some simple math. Conservative estimates put the number of illegal aliens at about 15 million. Ninety percent of that would be 13.5 million. And you think we have the money and logistics to manage the roundup of 13.5 million people who don’t want to be found? I can only laugh. Which legal system would you use to process 13.5 million people ‘in short order” as you suggest? Even your dad was given due process. Where would you hold these 13.5 million folks while this was being done? I’m sure you understand that there isn’t nearly that capacity in the present INS, State, Federal, County and City jails combined.
    The idea that this is a simple problem with simple solutions comes from people who have very little understanding of how this system works and the time, space, cost and logistics involved in processing a person to get them removed legally from the country. Or would you suggest we do it sans our legal system? Great idea. Let’s just scrap the legal system in favor of feel-good politics.