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 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 jimspiri.com.