04.30.18 | "Illegal" Immigrants

Perhaps a big story, such as this one about “illegal” immigrants, is best told as the mosaic of little stories like the one we discussed years ago as portrayed in the novel Tortilla Curtain

Mexican illegal Candido Rincon is left as so much road kill after having been accidentally struck by Delaney Mossbacher's SUV on a southern California highway. Candido has the audacity to survive and Delaney completes the insult by tossing a twenty-dollar bill into his freshly bashed-in face. Problem solved. Lives then disengage.

Were it only so simple. We followed Candido and his young wife as they clawed their way through a hard-scrabble existence to literally survive even as we watched Delaney become a prisoner of his paranoia within the walls of his gated community (full intro to that previous book club discussion attached as Pdf below). The story will serve as a metaphorical lead-in to the topic of "illegals."

They now number eleven million in the U.S. That translates to eleven million individual stories (NYT, Here's the Reality About Illegal Immigrants in the United States - The ...), way too many to describe or to even categorize. Most stories share an element of the uncertainty emanating from a very tentative (non)legal status. The lucky become naturalized. Some disappear as the guest of a sanctuary host or otherwise. Others blend in as hyper-productive members of society. They are the unheralded ones, doing the work we "legals" do not. We would lose them to our detriment.

The politics of the immigration "problem" sometimes threatens to devolve our regard for humanity into stereotype. How do you personally relate to those "south of the border" i.e. do you simply regard their presence in terms of a parallel, non-intersecting existence? Does the setting make a difference? You should be aware there are some powerful human stories right here in our midst.

One might argue the entire subject of immigration has nothing to do with stereotypes or its ugly half-brother, racism, and everything to do with fear -- the fear of those displaced and dispossessed with nothing left to lose. That's the same fear the depression-era "Oakies" were up against in Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath.  Last month marked a threatened "caravan" of a thousand or so Central American migrants trying to reach the Mexico-US border. What is a country without a defensible border? Is there not a limit to assimilation? What are the lessons we can draw from the European experience?

On the other hand, what are the consequences, psychological or otherwise, of a gated mentality, whether it's that of an individual, a neighborhood, or a country? It sounds like the defensive posture of an entitlement mindset. There's a tectonic shift grinding along our two-thousand-mile southern border. How should we respond?

- Steve Smith.

Dustin SimantobComment