This posting identifies some dots in the connect-the-dots picture that forms the background for my thinking about illegal immigration. I make no claim that these dots, when connected, present a clear or accurate picture of anything in particular. I rather doubt that they do, but they are all that I have to offer.
A number of years ago I returned from a family vacation to Florida on the night train. I had less time-off from work than my wife so she and kids dropped me off at the train station in Winter Haven Florida on Sunday night and a friend from work picked me up at the Raleigh North Carolina station Monday morning.
I called my ride when I arrived and had a bit of a wait until he picked me up. It was a pleasant morning and, since the Raleigh Amtrack station is only so exciting, I sat outside to wait. Across the street from the station was a roadside shelter where day laborers are picked up for odd jobs. Most of those in the shelter appeared to be hispanic (probably Mexican) and they sat quietly until a pickup truck would arrive. The next laborer in line would walk out, talk to the driver briefly and signal back to the rest how many were needed. The required number would get up, climb into the truck and it would drive off.
There was one individual in the shelter who was obviously not hispanic. He sat a little apart from them and he would occasionally go out and talk to a prospective employer too. I couldn't hear the Mexicans but I could hear him. "Sevun dollllars uh hour!" he yelled at one point, obviously drunk despite the early hour, "I don't work for no sevun dollllars a hour!" He would stagger back to the shelter. One or two of the Mexicans would then get into the truck and the drunk would yell abuse as they drove off. By the time I was picked up most of the Mexicans were gone but he was still there.
I don't remember exactly where I was. It might have been I-85 near Atlanta. The traffic was heavy but moving smoothly and quickly. I was trying to move with the flow of traffic which was moving at about 63 miles an hour despite the 55 mph national speed limit the Carter administration had imposed. Looking down the interstate ahead, and in my rear-view mirror, I could see two-, maybe three hundred automobiles on the road including three Highway Patrol Cruisers. Each and every one of them was breaking the law. As was I.
Among my friends and associates, the ones who have the strongest negative feelings about illegal immigrants are themselves immigrants. They have jumped through a number of hoops to enter the country legally and are sputteringly indignant about those who bypass the process. Many of them tell awful stories of the incompetence and callousness of the INS but most of their anger is somehow redirected at the illegal immigrants who never had to deal with the INS.
When I had my house built fifteen years ago the back yard required some contouring to get the drainage right. After the guy with the backhoe had established the general slope a landscaping crew came in to finish the job. The guys with the rakes were all Mexican and, of all the workmen who had worked on the construction they impressed me as the hardest-working. On several occasions I saw them bend down to pick up a rock and throw it into the woods. This doesn't sound like a big deal but when you contrast it with the attitude of most construction workers -- who seem to regard each site as an informal landfill -- it stands out as an unusually good work ethic.
There was a time, years ago when the local post office would be packed on Saturday mornings with hispanics waiting in line to send their pay back to their families in Mexico and Central America. Recently I see fewer of them there. I think this may be associated with signs I see in the windows of hispanic grocery stores. "Envie Dinero a Mexico Aqui. / Western Union." (Send money to Mexico here.) Wiring money costs more but it gets there sooner.
I have heard this flow of money from illegals working in the US to their families in Mexico described as a de-facto subsidy of the Mexican economy. I guess that's a fair statement, but we subsidize the economies of lots of countries. We give hundreds of millions every year, for instance, to Israel and even more to Egypt. I don't remember seeing that many Israelis hanging sheetrock in this country, or laying sod, and I'm pretty sure I don't remember any Egyptians picking up rocks in my back yard.
Immigration has been much in the news lately. Post-9/11 nervousness about our porous borders has made a number of people, myself included, re-examine their stands on immigration law and enforcement. I find myself reluctantly persuaded that we need to tighten up enforcement on our borders. That's where my head is but, I must confess, my heart isn't in it. When I hear stories of people who ford the Rio Grande and hike across forty miles of desert, just to get a job flipping burgers for minimum wage, or nailing shingles in the hot sun, I have trouble being properly indignant. I suppose my impression may be colored by the fact that North Carolina is quite a distance from the nearest border. The illegal immigrants who make it this far are likely to have come looking for work -- not for handouts. Most of them work hard, live cheaply and send most of their pay to their families back home. It may all be illegal but it still seems like enterprize to me.