‘Alberto’

‘Alberto’ is from Honduras. He looks to be about 40 years old. He works full-time and he also works part-time. I caught up with him at his part-time job, cutting grass and doing yard work. It was hot and humid, 90 degrees with a dewpoint of 61. The sweat was beading just above his heavy dark eyebrows and slowly trickling down around his thick nose. “I love it,” he said, “I love this hot weather. My brother hates it, but I love it.” He pushed the sweat off his forehead as he said this, wiping it back into his thick, short, salt-and-pepper hair.

It was a late Sunday morning on Memorial Day weekend and he was mowing a suburban lawn when he took a break to talk with me. “I really appreciate it. That people hire me to do their lawn work, it really helps,” he said. Alberto’s fulltime job used to be working at a hardware store, that’s where I first met him. He’s the guy you wanted to talk to because he could help you equally well whether you had a question about leaky toilets or designer plant soil.

“I’ve been in America 22 years now, and I have three children. All born here. Ages two to 18. They can stay, but I have to leave. How am I gonna do that?” he asks, rhetorically.

Alberto didn’t come here illegally. Nor did he overstay his visa. In fact, he’s done everything legally, above board. In 1999 nearly 90,000 Hondurans were allowed into the US under Temporary Protective Status in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch, which devastated the country and left 10,000 people dead across Central America. That protective status has been in place ever since. But now the Trump administration says it will revoke that status as of January, 2020. Alberto, and the other 50,000 Hondurans who still rely on TPS have 18 months to somehow get citizenship or they will be deported.

In fact Trump’s Department of Homeland Security, under Secretary Kerstjen Nielson, is revoking TPS not just for those 50,000 Hondurans but for about 300,000 other people from Sudan, Nepal, Haiti, Nicaragua, and El Salvador.

If you seem to recall that Honduran immigrants have been in the news a lot lately, you’re right. Many of the folks who were part of the immigrant caravan that pushed Trump into a Twitter tirade were from Honduras. It’s not hurricanes driving them out now but rather a country in crisis. Their last election was contested, the outcome was probably illegitimate; violent, deadly protests resulted.

Honduras also has a drug trade that controls most of the cocaine distributed in the United States. And let’s be honest about this, the Central American drug trade is driven by demand here in the USA. If we weren’t buying they wouldn’t be selling.

Of course with the drug trade come gangs and violence. The MS-13 gang has a presence in Honduras – though it is by no means the largest or most violent gang there. In 2012 Honduras had the highest murder rate in the world for countries not at war. It is supposedly better now; only 14 people are killed, on average, each day, down from 20 people a day in 2012. But the current rate is still more than 10 times the murder rate in the United States and still one of the highest murder rates in the world. A total of 4 percent of these murders end in conviction; the police and military are widely corrupt and believed to be frequently working in concert with the gangs.

“How can I bring my children there?” asks Alberto, again rhetorically. “I’m scared to go there myself, I don’t want to go there. I don’t know how to live there.” Yet he has gone there. “The first lawyer we hired, he said to go back there and start over again, because maybe I could get asylum. So we took his advice but that didn’t work. The second lawyer we hired just took our money and didn’t do anything. Nothing. Now we’re on our third lawyer, maybe he’ll know what to do.”

Alberto’s current fulltime job is detailing cars. “They don’t pay me a lot but they are good to me,” he says. He works for a very large used-car dealership. “After two weeks of working there they asked me to manage the detailing department. I’m not the fastest but I am the best,” he says, a proud smile playing across his face. “Of course, now that I am manager, some of the other guys get mad at me. It’s not always fun to manage.” He’s a manager and he makes not much more than $10 an hour. And he’s had to hire three lawyers to fight the Trump administration’s plans for him.

These are the people we need here, the people we want here. And we do need them here. The US fertility rate is at its lowest rate ever. Ever. We are not having enough babies to even maintain a steady population, let alone to grow it. The only way we can maintain or grow the population now is through immigration. Yet the Trump administration is dead set on deporting able-bodied workers and their children even though the net inflow of immigrants per 1000 people is at it’s lowest rate since 1820. Since 1820!

“After all the taxes I’ve paid, for 22 years, working full-time for 22 years … and I don’t even have a speeding ticket! Never, not one!” He’s gesturing with his hands now, as if imploring me to understand. “And the social security tax too”, he says, “if I leave they don’t give that back to me, they just keep it.” And this is true. Even illegal immigrants who get paychecks pay all federal taxes and FICA – the social security tax. But they’ll never see their social security payments returned as monthly retirement checks if they are using a fake social security number or working under an assumed name.  Or if they are deported before they retire. It’s not like we send them back with a nice fat check – we just keep that money, and use it for the rest of us. This is clearly wrong.

“I love America, I really do,” said Alberto, and smiled again as he said it. “I still think it is the greatest country, or at least it can be. The Greatest Country!” He smiled even wider as he wiped more sweat back into his hair. ”But I don’t understand why they’re doing this to me.”

His oldest daughter, now in high school, plays hockey. Women’s high school hockey, in Minnesota. That’s about as far, metaphorically speaking, as you can get from Honduras. And now Alberto’s supposed to go back there. And he can resettle his children in one of the most dangerous countries in the world or he can leave his family here and go by himself to a place where he has no job, no security, no family.

I agree with Alberto. I love this country, I really do. But I don’t understand why we are doing this to him, and to 400,000 other people like him. Deporting law-abiding, hard-working people will, in the long-run, only harm our economy and our strength. But beyond that, it is just immoral. I can find no other explanation for our current immigration policies except that they are based in fear, prejudice and ignorance. And in the Trump Administration’s case, a willful ignorance, as in ignoring the truth. They know better. They know these stats and they know the long-term consequences of what they are doing. But they also know that by appealing to people’s fear and prejudice they can secure the support of a solid 40% of the American population. It shouldn’t be that easy for this great country to be this foolish, and this cruel. We need to be better than this.

References / Information and details found in,

The Guardian, May 4, 2018

The Washington Post, May 4, 2018

The Washington Post, Dec 4 2017

US News and World Report, July 31, 2017

Wikipedia (crime stats)

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