New Sherwood

My illegal alien friends

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.

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February 6, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized

26 Comments »

  1. I know exactly what you mean with all of this. My lovely wife taught English at our local parish (before we were driven out) and we have several Mexican friends, including the godparents of our now 13-year-old daughter. I’m pretty sure I know who’s here legally and who’s not, but it doesn’t really make any difference to me.

    Frankly, were i in the same position most of them had been in in Mexico, I would have come North too. One of my friends is an auto body mechanic. Highly skilled, he can make a decent middle-class life working in the US. In Mexico he was making $5 a day, and was unable to open his own shop because it would have taken about $1500 in bribes to get the needed licenses and permits. Even had he had the needed permits, business competition in Mexico is not always non-violent.

    His Father-in-law was murdered by the local Padron. Shot in the chest in front of dozens of witnesses. The police did nothing.

    It is corruption that holds Mexico back. They have more natural resources and harder-working citizens than the US, but the loss of capital to rich thieves and grafting officials prevents upward mobility. Basically in Mexico, if you start poor, you stay poor.

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    Comment by Danby | February 6, 2009 | Reply

  2. I’m in favor of open borders. I think that years and years ago, in the 50’s maybe, there may have been an argument to control immigration for the purpose of helping to maintain the culture. But since then the self-destructivness of mainstream american culture has accelerated to the point where there is really nothing to save or conserve.

    What we ae faced with now is the task of restoration, and that restoration begins with faith.

    Now I will grant that most illegal immigrants aren’t terribly faithful people. My illegal immigrant neighbors certianly aren’t. But, it seems that there is a better chance that they will be faithful people than mainstream americans. For this reason I think we should welcome them. It matters more to me that my neighbors are catholic than that they are american.

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    Comment by ben | February 6, 2009 | Reply

  3. Danby: Good points. I’m sure you’re right about the corruption holding Mexico back. Very sad story about your friend’s father-in-law.

    Ben: Well, I don’t agree – yet – that American culture has nothing left to save or conserve. To be sure, we are approaching the last hour. Immigration in large numbers, though not without benefits, is culturally destabilizing and makes efforts at conservation/restoration politically difficult. America’s foreign-born population is now at 12%, or 33 million, roughly the population of Canada. That wouldn’t be too bad if we had a strong, confident Christian culture into which they could assimilate. As it stands, rebuilding that culture, if it is to be done, will require a high degree of demographic stability.

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    Comment by Jeff Culbreath | February 7, 2009 | Reply

    • It is very ofensive to want people to assimilate culture!
      Tolerancy does not mean, I will tolerate you so you can became just ike me. Tolerance mean understanding both cultures and celebrating their differences, guess what diverse means YOU may LEARN something too!
      I am a legal alien, (hATE THAT WORD it was created to dehumanize people, any time anyone asks for my allien number I always fell like adding “live long and prosper” to it) I WANT to preserve my culture! The american Culture is not better or worse than mine. I can benefit from understanding both without erasing neither.

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      Comment by social awareness | September 4, 2009 | Reply

  4. And let’s please not forget that immigrants from Mexico may be Catholic but vote disproportionately Democrat. I don’t even know all the reasons for that and would be only conjecturing, but if we’re trying to rebuild and restore any kind of Christian culture, giving absolute power forever to the Party of Death is not the way to start. Let’s not fool ourselves. (This is meant as a response to what Ben said, btw, not to the main post.)

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    Comment by Lydia | February 7, 2009 | Reply

  5. You’re a good man, Culbreath. With this economy, though, Mexicans probably won’t be coming as much anymore anyway. God bless.

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    Comment by Arturo Vasquez | February 7, 2009 | Reply

  6. That’s the one good thing I see coming from the Greater Depression we seem bound and determined to achieve in this country. (c.f. the liberal democrat repayment bill, excuse me, stimulus package, now before Congress) Not chasing off Mexicans but that it will put an end to a lot of nonsense that goes on culturally and politically in this country. We won’t be the country we were 50 years ago ever again, but we could easily return to a base level of rationality.

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    Comment by Danby | February 7, 2009 | Reply

  7. Lydia: You’re right, but are the Republicans that much better? Is it possible that immigrants from Mexico could tilt the Democrats toward a pro-life stance? I don’t know the answers myself, but I tend to ignore party affiliation in my dealings with people.

    Arturo: Thank you for the comment. Good man or not, I’m glad to be back in your good graces. :-)

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    Comment by Jeff Culbreath | February 7, 2009 | Reply

  8. I admit to mixed feelings on this issue, I don’t see that changing any time soon.

    Our Catholic teaching would want us to reach out to the alien, the widow, the orphans – but within the context of the law.

    I wonder how many open border advocates actually live on or near the border? (And I wonder if they know how harshly Mexico deals with illegal immigrants on its southern border with Central America?)

    This is a tough issue that isn’t going away any time soon, when American prosperity and materialism smack up against our reponsibility to live out the Gospel message of sharing not only of our surplus, but even from our substance. My problem comes with experiencing on both a personal and professional level, many immigrants with a sense of entitlement and a lack of respect for American law and cultural mores.

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    Comment by annabenedetti | February 8, 2009 | Reply

  9. A friend of mine has quite an opinion on illegal immigration, and I sent her your post, taking names off. She says that the Cathecism is rather clear about obeying civil law as long as it isn’t against moral law, and for her, that would involve turning in a person if you knew them to be illegal. Not at all my opinion, simply because I believe beauracracy is more to blame and because I think it is far more complicated than that. I just wondered what you thought of all that in the context of the Cathecism. In your position, I’d feel the same way, and I said so.

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    Comment by Ann Marie | February 8, 2009 | Reply

  10. Anna, it is a difficult issue, and I have mixed feelings as well. I wish the US was serious about enforcing immigration law. Otherwise it is only a joke.

    Ann Marie, your friend is right about the catechism in general. But not all laws are equally enforced or enforceable, and sometimes other circumstances lead to widespread contempt. For example, I was told by a California highway patrolman that I could safely drive 10mph over the speed limit and the CHP would not bother me. Statutory speed limits are one thing, but the CHP is enforcing another speed limit – the one most Californians recognize. Another example: in California we have had something called a “use tax” for people who purchase items in other states by phone, fax, or internet and have them shipped to California. Because they do not pay sales tax in any jurisdiction, the state requires that they pay a “use tax”. This law has been in effect since the 1930s. However, it was long ignored and unenforced until our present Governor discovered that he had a budget crisis. Almost nobody complies with this, not only because the law is obscure, but because compliance is a pain in the neck. The massive proliferation of unenforced, unenforcable, counter-intuitive and trivial laws has the effect of eroding respect for the law in general. If I “turned in” everyone I knew who routinely violated civil laws, I would turn in almost everyone I know, including myself. Fortunately, you can tell your friend that I am not violating any law by not reporting my illegal alien friends, as there is no law (to the best of my knowledge) requiring me to do so.

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    Comment by Jeff Culbreath | February 8, 2009 | Reply

  11. Oh, and one more thing: I can almost guarantee that a phone call to the INS informing on an illegal alien would be totally ignored. The enforcement problem has nothing to do with a lack of good information.

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    Comment by Jeff Culbreath | February 8, 2009 | Reply

  12. “Is it possible that immigrants from Mexico could tilt the Democrats toward a pro-life stance?”

    In the same sense that it is possible pigs will fly. Is it remotely likely to happen? Absolutely not. For all the Mexican immigrant votes the Dems have gotten over the years, they have only gotten more rabidly pro-death, and will continue so to do.

    Again, I’m not saying this should influence your relation to your neighbors, Jeff. I’m answering Ben’s claim that we should open our borders to try to help us in the “task of restoration” through “faith.” If he’s going to make that sort of consequential argument, then it’s perfectly legitimate to point out that that is _not_ likely to be a consequence of open borders. Not even close.

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    Comment by Lydia | February 8, 2009 | Reply

  13. You can absolutely guarantee it will be ignored. The border patrol is understaffed and strait-jacketed by political correctness. Our hospitals are tottering under the load of non-paying patients, our schools have untold numbers of students whose parents drive them over the border to attend school while school officials look the other way (Federal funding headcount reigns supreme). For political activists, this is an ongoing re-taking of land they believe to be theirs. Ever looked at a La Raza website or an Aztlan map? Marxists are at work both in front of and behind the scenes in these organizations. One can say “Oh, those are just the radical fringe. Most illegal immigrants are peaceful and just want to work hard to support their families.” Well, our American radical fringe is now in the White House, thanks to the breathtaking percentage of Catholics who thought “change” was more important than “life”.

    Many are hardworking. Then again, many consider that the U.S. owes them public services. Many value family and life, but that stereotype is not as sure as assumed. We know how many voted for Obama, what you may not know is how many go to our local abortion clinics for abortions. Most may be law-abiding, but a disproportinate number are in our prison systems.

    Again dissonance: the immigrants who come here to work hard, but drive without insurance. My car was hit in such a collision; my insurance paid. Go to Mexico without buying Mexican insurance? You’ll land in jail.

    Someone might say that what I’ve said applies to we Americans just the same, regarding public assistance, law-breaking etc. Where I see inconsistency is the tendency for open-border folks to assume the worst of Americans while viewing illegal immigrants through the rosy haze of social justice work.

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    Comment by annabenedetti | February 8, 2009 | Reply

  14. Correction – I unintentially overstated. (I wish you had an edit function!)

    Again dissonance: the immigrants who come here to work hard, but drive without insurance.

    I should have qualified “many” immigrants.

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    Comment by annabenedetti | February 8, 2009 | Reply

  15. Michigan got on that “use tax” thing a few years ago. Now there is a check box on the state income tax form that requires you to say, “I do not owe any use tax” or “I owe use tax and it’s this much_____.” If you don’t keep your receipts you can do it as a percentage of income (how nice of them), but they reserve the right to stick you anyway if (somehow) they find out that you have paid less than you should have that way. So I save all the visa bills and circle the relevant items. Trouble is, it makes it look like we aren’t getting enough state income tax withheld, because here we have all this extra we’re supposed to pay in use tax. So sometimes I send it as a separate check and check the box saying, “I do not owe any use tax,” so I don’t have to worry about having extra income tax withheld. Combining the two different types of taxes actually creates complications.

    You are so right about stupid laws creating contempt of law.

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    Comment by Lydia | February 9, 2009 | Reply

  16. She says that the Cathechism is rather clear about obeying civil law as long as it isn’t against moral law, and for her, that would involve turning in a person if you knew them to be illegal.

    It is a bad argument. It is true that we are obliged to obey the positive law as long as it does not require us to do evil. But the positive law does not in fact require ordinary citizens to report illegal aliens; so the argument is irrelevant to the question of whether, as a moral matter, we ought or ought not turn in a particular illegal alien.

    (And the “for her” qualifier makes me cringe. It is either objectively a sound argument, or not; if objectively sound, it is objectively sound for all of us. But it is not objectively sound.)

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    Comment by Zippy | February 9, 2009 | Reply

  17. How do you then interpret Lev 19:33-34?

    “If a stranger dwell in your land, and abide among you, do not upbraid him: But let him be among you as one of the same country. And you shall love him as yourselves: for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.”

    There really is no room here for a restrictive immigration policy. I would go so far as to say that this law given to Moses seems to absolutely forbid the Christian from turning in the illegal alien solely because he is illegal. God says are to treat him as our countryman.

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    Comment by ben | February 10, 2009 | Reply

  18. “If a stranger dwell in your land, and abide among you, do not upbraid him: But let him be among you as one of the same country. And you shall love him as yourselves: for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.”

    Ben, I don’t think this passage speaks to the question of how the “stranger” came to “dwell in your land” in the first place. It seems to me that open borders are not workable unless the affected states share some kind of overarching legal and cultural framework. Law enforcement and regulation of commerce, for instance, would become a nightmare.

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    Comment by Jeff Culbreath | February 10, 2009 | Reply

  19. There are no doubt many who believe that since the passgae does not speak to how the stranger comes to dwell in our land that it might apply differently in different circumstances. I tend to think that the context is missing because it is meant to apply universally. After all, Leviticus is not exactly a text lacking on relevant details and minutiae.

    I think we also have to consider that the mosaic law was also the civil code for the Hebrews. So what we have here is God telling the Israelites that they won’t have such a thing as an illegal alien.

    Now I suppose there is a chance that such laws would not apply to us gentiles. But if we look to historical christendom, we don’t see illegal aliens there either. Illegal aliens come only with the statism of modernism.

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    Comment by ben | February 10, 2009 | Reply

  20. There really is no room here for a restrictive immigration policy.
    Using the old covenant to justify open borders has its limitations. See Exodus 12:48 and 49.

    And when a stranger shall sojourn with you and would keep the passover to the LORD, let all his males be circumcised, then he may come near and keep it; he shall be as a native of the land. But no uncircumcised person shall eat of it. 49 There shall be one law for the native and for the stranger who sojourns among you.”

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    Comment by annabenedetti | February 10, 2009 | Reply

  21. I’d be fine with having open borders only for the baptized.

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    Comment by ben | February 10, 2009 | Reply

  22. Which is it going to be, old covenant or new?

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    Comment by annabenedetti | February 10, 2009 | Reply

  23. Having been an illegal alien myself I guess you know where I stand pretty much — that said, I do think that countries have right to protect their borders, but not shut them down completely. I guess I am for porous borders that somehow stop terrorism.

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    Comment by Robert Duncan | February 10, 2009 | Reply

  24. Good luck with that.

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    Comment by Lydia | February 11, 2009 | Reply


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