Two days ago a friend stopped by the ranch for a visit. Cesar and his family lived in the mobile home across the road when we arrived in Orland four years ago, but last year they moved into town. He helped us build our chicken run, recently gave us a load of scrap wood from the mill where he works, and his family has been a good customer for our eggs. We have loaned him our tools, attended his daughter’s first communion party, and attended another daughter’s birthday party. Two years ago his sweet wife was pregnant with their first son (they now have three daughters). Like my wife, she often had to commute between Chico and Orland with the children. One evening tragedy struck, and the vehicle she was driving was hit by a drunk driver. She and her daughters survived – with injuries requiring hospitalization and months of physical therapy – but she lost her unborn baby boy. The family was devastated. I vividly remember the night Cesar’s teenage brother ran across the road in a panic, pounded on our front door in a manner that startled everyone, and breathlessly gave us the news.
Anyway, on Tuesday my friend informed me that he had just been laid off from the mill. When I asked him for details, he told me what I had long suspected: “I have to tell you the truth, Jeff. I don’t have the documents necessary to work here. They let forty of us go when they found out.” In other words, he’s an illegal alien. His papers were filed in 1999, he said, but the INS is still processing applications from 1992. It will be a while before they get to him. I suspect there was some kind of INS pressure on the owners of the mill.
For me, that was a little too much information.
I don’t have a moral dilemma here. I’m not the border patrol. I won’t be informing authorities. Neither will I be lecturing or scolding Cesar on the evils of breaking American laws. I participate myself in the so-called “underground economy” without scruples. Some of my readers might be surprised to learn this, but that’s how it is in rural America – especially rural California – where, due to the costs of compliance, the alternative to an “underground economy” is often no economy at all. We don’t ask, they don’t tell, and everyone is happy.
Cesar left his village in Mexico, which he loves, because there is no water available to grow crops. State officials will not allow any private well-drilling unless, he believes, they are paid handsome bribes. There are lots of smug, pat answers to this problem, but none that really satisfy.
Despite my own ties to certain immigrant communities, I am in favor of a complete moratorium on immigration for at least ten years, vigorously enforced. Such a policy would undoubtedly create hardships, but it might force Mexico to get serious about dealing with its own problems, and it would give America time to digest and assimilate the immigrants already here. In the meantime, however, I can’t be too hard on illegal aliens like Cesar for doing what our broken system tacitly allows and, to a significant degree, has seemed to encourage.