The Daily Demarche
Wednesday, December 29, 2004
The "Tortilla Curtain"
In the pre-dawn hours of the night the small group of people, mostly men in their late teens and early twenties, crouches along the side of a raised road. The "runners", young men hired to sneak as far as they can into an area known to have sensors or patrols, then to scatter like birds when accosted, sneak out into the darkness away from the group. While border patrol agents hunt them down the "coyote" will slip his golden geese away from the patrols. The signal comes down the line and the group heads quietly out into the open desert. It's punishingly cold, especially for those from the far southern regions of the country. Tomorrow will be hot, with no relief from the sun. The risks are huge, the potential payoff enormous. At least half of the group is wishing they had the $100 they plunked down for a visa interview (and maybe more for some fake documents). Added to the $1000 or more they are paying the "coyote" who is leading them this has been an expensive and increasingly dangerous venture...

That is not the opening of a cheesy novel, it is the reality on the border, every night. Immigration issues and immigration reform are one of the foremost challenges facing America in the coming years. We absorb wave after wave of illegal immigrants, estimated at 1,500,000 per year, who we are conditioned to refer to as "undocumented" (just as we refer to UFO sightings) instead of the newly pejorative "illegal alien" and little or nothing is done to stem the flow.

There are calls from within and without to reform our policy (meaning let more people in), assault on the men and women who are charged with stopping illegal immigrants in their own countries, and cries of "Pardon" from all sides of the political spectrum. American immigration issues make headlines as far away as Turkey. Even people in positions of authority who one would expect to know better say amazing things:

"Some of the hardest-working and most productive people in this city are undocumented aliens. If you come here and you work hard and you happen to be in an undocumented status, you're one of the people who we want in this city. You're somebody that we want to protect, and we want you to get out from under what is often a life of being like a fugitive, which is really unfair."- Rudolph W Giuiliani

How many illegals do you suppose answered this siren song? Just talking about reform seems to cause an increase in illegal border crossings from Mexico: in FY05 to date arrests at the border are up 15%, every time an amnesty is alleged to be in the works there is a surge in illegal entries.

Rudy, repeat after me: entering the U.S. without proper documentation is ILLEGAL. From the moment an illegal enters the U.S. he is a fugitive- and that is not unfair, it is a fact. The poor American who robs to feed his children goes to jail when caught. There is no amnesty, no "special status." This madness needs to be confronted head on and stopped. I agree that there are problems with our current system, but amnesty is not the answer.

From President Bush:

"First, we want our border patrol agents chasing crooks and thieves and drug runners and terrorists, not good-hearted people who are coming here to work," he said. He also put illegal immigration in another unusual context, one that in its reference to "values" harked back to the presidential campaign: "Family values do not stop at the Rio Grande River, is what I used to tell the people of my state. People are coming to put food on the table..."

Mr. President, I agree with you 100% on what should be the primary mission of the border patrol, but the "good-hearted" people you are referring to are "crooks" as defined by the current immigration laws of America. Family values may not respect national borders, but individuals must. If 1.5 million armed individuals came across that border there would be no talk of how good-hearted they are.

After 9-11 the student visa program in the U.S. received a lot of attention, but by and large immigration issues are not matters of great public interest. For information on quotas, "chain migration" and the many types of legal immigration check out the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), the section Immigration Basics has a lot of valuable information.

Our Consular officers have one of the most difficult and least understood jobs in the Foreign Service. In some places the wait for a visa interview exceeds 18 months- an interview which might last less than four minutes, and has a better than even chance of ending in a denial. Every day economic refugees throng our embassies and consulates. I can't blame them, and as a young officer doing visa interviews in Mexico on my first tour I tried to see the lies and fraud as a compliment- America still represents the land of opportunity to many people around the world. But this time of year another group passes through our visa offices, those who have been in the US for years and have returned home for the holidays.

These are the repeat offenders of the immigration saga, and no one really knows how many there are. They make their appointments far in advance, often buying fraudulent documents to help convince the Consular officer that they are legitimate, that they have strong ties to their home country. They are willing to risk $100, the cost of booking an interview for a visa that is usually valid for 10 years, to avoid the trek through the desert. Many have lived in America for so long their Spanish is degraded, or they have picked up accents not native to their homeland.

Every day the Consular Officers will speak with 100 or more applicants (that number is much lower than the pre 9-11 interviewing days, when 300 per day was not uncommon) trying to sort out the truth from the half-truths and the lies. They are looking for illegal immigrants, true, but also looking for the next Mohammed Atta. If they are in Latin America they know many of those they reject will simply leave the building and head for el norte. The applicants and the Officers both know that if they manage to get through the "tortilla curtain" the game is basically over. And now our politicians are telling the folks manning the consular lines and the border patrol agents that all of their hard work means nothing: these "undocumented" folks are good people who we want to protect once they reach America. Stop 'em if you can boys, but once they get here we might as well make them legal. This message is devastatingly wrong to send to our FSOs and Border Patrol Agents, and to those who would break the law in anticipation of both reward and pardon.

to be continued...


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dé·marche 1) A course of action; a maneuver. 2) A diplomatic representation or protest 3) A statement or protest addressed by citizens to public authorities.

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