Maurer's October 24 Column in Key West the Newspaper
The Statue of Liberty stands as a beacon in New York harbor. It proclaims, "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore;
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door."
Something gets lost in the transmission, however, for hundreds who die each year in Arizona deserts
trying to flee $6 per day jobs in Mexico; for others who die each year in the Atlantic Ocean
trying to flee Fidel Castro or the political and economic oppression in Haiti.
The following facts are pretty much undisputed. As of year 2000, this nation of 281 million people had
at least some 31 million foreign-born people living in our land. Among or in addition to these 31 million folks
(11% of our population), were an estimated 7 to 10 million persons designated as "illegal" immigrants.
We deport less than 50,000 people per year (many unfairly, perhaps), although countless millions live,
no doubt, in fear of deportation.
Many foreign-born live here supposedly temporarily with student visas and the like (although access
for arabic persons has been said to be severely and often unfairly inhibited post-9/11).
Others (hundreds of thousands) work here under "temporary" L-1 and/or H-1B visas.
Additional hundreds of thousands are granted permanent residence via so-called
green cards and/or a "diversity" lottery.
The Cuban Adjustment Act of 1996 supposedly allows 20,000 visas per year for "non-security risk"
Cubans (although far less are said to be actually approved and issued).
The "wet-foot/dry-foot" charade protects "dry feet" Cubans in the sense of protecting them from immediate return
to Castro/Cuba. Some 230 Haitians, however, who leaped ashore at Key Biscayne, Florida in October, 2002,
are apparently still being held in varying forms (some infamous) of confinement.
In 10/1/02-9/30/03, it has been estimated that the U.S. will have admitted less than 20,000 refugees
from all the world. For the prior year, 10/1/01-9/30/02, the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS)
reported that there were 28,000 legal immigrants from Cuba although only 2,600 of these were identified as "new arrivals".
During the same period (01-02), BCIS reported a world-wide total of 384,000 "new arrival" immigrants,
53,000 of whom came from Mexico. BCIS reports 900,000 annual southwest border apprehensions,
nearly 93% of whom are "voluntarily" returned.
What do all of these statistics prove? The conclusions are, I suspect, in the eye of the beholder.
At a minimum, I suggest they show a hollow promise of New York harbor's Miss Liberty, a dishonest pledge
to "lift my lamp" to the "huddled masses", to the "wretched refuse", to the "homeless" and the "tempest-tost".
More critical, perhaps, than the plight of those who seek to come to our shores, is the sad situation
of the millions already here "illegally". To make your heart weep, read John Bowe's 11-page article
in the April 21-28, 2003 issue of The New Yorker magazine. Entitled "Nobodies, Does slavery exist in America?",
it tells the tale of Adan Ortiz, 38 years old, from Yucatan, Mexico. With a wife and 6 children,
Ortiz could only find work paying $6 per day, 2-3 days per week in Mexico. He borrowed $250 to pay
a smuggler to get him across the border into Arizona. From there, he was taken in a crowded, ill-ventilated van
to a swampy town, Lake Placid, Florida, some 60 miles north of Immokalee. Immokalee is 40 miles inland from
Fort Myers and Sanibel Island. Its swampy terrain has been transformed by canals, pumps and fertilizer
into a major source of all the winter produce sold in the United States. Consolidated Citrus is said to own
55,000 acres there; Lykes Brothers is said to be a billion-dollar conglomerate. Other tightly controlled
citrus and tomato producers are said to include Six L's Packing Co.; Gargiulo, Inc.; and Pacific Tomato Growers.
All of the corporate farmers are said to "enjoy" the work of mostly Mexican and Central American migrant workers.
(Too bad they're not Cuban-Americans so that the Diaz-Balarts and the Ros-Lehtinens might have come to their aid.)
For tomatos, a picker is paid 40 cents per 32 pound bucket; to earn $50 per day, he or she must pick 2 tons of tomatos
(125 buckets). For oranges, a picker earns about $7 per bin of 1,000 pounds or 2,000 oranges,
and the average picker can fill 6-8 bins and earn $42-$56 per day. That is the promise of America, particularly
to an illegal "migrant" worker, back-breaking work and $6,000 annual earnings if you're lucky.
For the upwards of 10 million "illegal" immigrants, aside from California driver licenses
(which Governor Scharzenegger threatens to take away), some Republicans and several Democrats
promise consideration of some relief. A proposed Craig-Kennedy federal law would grant legal status
to some 500,000 farm workers if they show they've done farm work for 100 days over the past 18 months
and pledge 360 days of farm work in the next 6 years. Another proposed bill would allow illegal immigrants
to pay a $1,500 fine; wait 3 years and then apply for permanent residency if they had an employer sponsor.
Another would grant legal status to teenagers who've been here at least 5 years, graduated from high school here
and have no criminal record. (None go quite so far as the Reagan-era Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986
which allowed undocumented immigrants and their families, for one year, to legalize their status.)
All the considered legislation promises some progress, but all still far short of curing the problems described by
Father Daniel Groody, Associate Director for Latino Studies at the University of Notre Dame.
In the April, 2003 issue of U.S. Catholic, Father Groody wrote, "Undocumented immigrants today experience
... economic, social, legal and psychological crucifixion that often dehumanizes them and
... robs them of their human dignity, if not their very lives."
And the Statue of Liberty weeps about her broken promises.