Few are aware of the tragic consequences that America's capricious immigration laws can engender. Just before Christmas last year, a regional organic grocery-store chain in the Asheville, NC area fired "an unspecified number of undocumented workers". A company spokeswoman agreed with critics that the timing had been "unfortunate", but insisted the corporation had no choice. (Asheville Citizen-Times, "Earth Fare immigrant worker firings criticized")
I'd like to share a true story about what it's really like to have no choice. As Wiccan clergy and co-author of a popular spellbook and website, I often receive requests for aid from the needy and desperate worldwide. Recently, a mother living in Mexico contacted me: Her daughter's fiancé had been kidnapped — would I use my psychic skills to see if he'd live or die, and if the latter, would I please help them recover his body?
She explained honestly and without self-pity that her once middle-class Mexican-American family had lived and worked in Arizona for decades until recently, when her husband got swept up in the state's new anti-immigrant dragnet, and was summarily deported because of a visa technicality. They were forced to move to a Mexican border village in order to keep their family intact.
Thrust into an alien culture, her formerly free-spirited kids, used to visiting neighbors, had become virtual prisoners in their home just to avoid rampant drug-cartel gunfire outside. Nevertheless, a young local ranch-hand befriended the family and began courting her daughter. Trying to make the best of things, they looked forward to the wedding.
But then a cartel seized the ranch-hand for ransom. When the girl's mother contacted me, the police had found a plastic bag of burned body parts near the site of his abduction — did I sense he was part of the mix?
I told her that I felt the fiancé was alive but was being tortured, and would be released in two weeks. As I predicted, he was dumped on a roadside a fortnight later — his tongue cut out and fingers chopped off to prevent him from revealing his captors' identity.
An innocent victim, he had been used as human incentive to induce his boss to pay protection money to the drug cartel. Traumatized by the experience, he's become agoraphobic, terrified to leave home. He can no longer verbally express himself, or work with his hands. He's become an old man at the age of 24, and now views himself merely as a collection of broken parts. Effectively emasculated in the village's eyes, he called the wedding off. The daughter, trapped between love and denial, is distraught. Her siblings have been reminded that they could face a similar heartrending fate to the fiancé's at any time if the drug cartels decide that, as Americans, they might have money. The family roams their small casa in mute shock.
One thing leads to another: The mother had been in full compliance with U.S. immigration law, her kids born American citizens. Yet when the father missed one turn in our convoluted immigration maze, they all went down — their lives forever changed simply because the government didn't receive a piece of paper on time.
Anyone who's struggled to file taxes or has applied for benefits knows what it's like to believe that you've supplied all that the agency demands, only to discover that you still owe the I.R.S. money, or have missed some crucial bureaucratic deadline. The next thing you know, you've been foreclosed upon, or threatened with deportation — your strong family suddenly rendered fragile. This family went from embodying the American dream to nursing a smoldering hatred of the nation that betrayed it.
Race and class issues have driven American immigration policies since our country's inception. The influx of workers from far-flung lands has by arbitrary turns been encouraged (during the Industrial Revolution), subsidized (by the postwar "bracero" program), or denied (as with Arizona's draconian crackdown, or the Depression-era "Mexican Repatriation") — based on greed, need, war fervor, or political expediency. Often, those who've tried their best to navigate the Kafkaesque labyrinth of ever-changing immigration rules still end up being deported.
These days, countries schizophrenically push a global economy on the one hand, while clinging to an outmoded border system on the other. Making matters worse, America's irrational war on drugs has created a black-market nightmare across our border, where multinational corporate agribusiness has devastated Mexico's small farmers and driven its economy into the hands of brutal drug gangs like the one that has terrorized this exiled American family.
The more we continue to dehumanize immigrants as "aliens", the more we encourage politicians who piously preach "family values" while viciously scapegoating close-knit Mexican-American families for political gain, and corporations that exploit undocumented breadwinners for cheap labor, then callously dump them at year's end like a disposable commodity. And we succeed only in worsening the plight of real, innocent, American families such as this one.
Lady Passion is co-author of The Goodly Spellbook: Olde Spells for Modern Problems and High Priestess of Coven Oldenwilde in Asheville, NC. She may be reached via: www.oldenwilde.org