Immigration may not be in all cases an answer

Published 10:33 am Monday, April 9, 2012

In Honduras, where I once lived, I met a lot of Hondurans who were anxious to immigrate to the United States. Well, not so much the U.S. as to Miami. They seemed to think of this individual city as being synonymous with America — or all that is attractive about America. The Miami Herald was the most widely read English language newspaper in Central America, and several of Miami’s television stations broadcast in Spanish. The latter was especially formative of the perception that every Latino and Latina arrives in America instantly becomes healthy, wealthy and wise — especially wealthy. Being “healthy” meant being good-looking enough to get great sex, and being “wise” meant being street smart enough to survive.

(I pause to calm those readers who have never been to Honduras, much less lived anywhere in Latin America, by asserting this attitude is not characteristic of most Honduras — just those who expressed romantic, unrealistic, and selfish dreams about coming here — or at least to Miami.) While it was typical of those anxious to immigrate, it does not represent all. Some individuals expressed valid and excellent reasons. I also write in the past tense, because I report only what I found there 26 years ago. (However, my contacts have not indicated there has been any significant change.) I am not, also, claiming this to be peculiar to Honduras, only that this is the Central American country I knew best. The only factor that might be peculiar to Central America is Miami as the iconic American city.

Now back to those individuals whom I am describing. These wanted to get out of Honduras and get from America what they presumed every immigrant gets out of America. They wanted not so much to be in America but to get out of America what they wanted, i.e., wealth and other elements of “the good life.” What I never heard from people is what they planned or even hoped to put into America. Among these, there was no plan or hope. It was entirely one-sided.

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Did they want to learn English? Not necessarily — only enough to get what they wanted. What work did they want to do? They hadn’t thought about that, but whatever pays big money. After all, “Miami Vice” showed a lot of fun ways to make money in America. They hadn’t noticed that in this television drama, then popular there as well as in America, that the bad guys always got caught. They would not.

I individually, and several other American army officers, worked hard to get one Honduran into America. Jamie was a 12-year old boy we found living on the streets of Yoro. His parents were both Honduran and had immigrated to the States (Miami, of course). After his father left her, his mother brought Jamie to Yoro and then disappeared. That was five years earlier, and he had no documentation of being an American citizen or eligibility to become one.

I heard few more valid cases for immigration to America — anywhere. Not so incidentally, Jamie did not insist on Miami. We rather much persuaded American consulate officials to recommend his immigration, but the Honduran government dragged its feet. It isn’t that officials wanted to hold onto the boy, but some wanted money.

I was introduced to a covert network of Honduran-sympathetic employees within the various government offices in Tegucigalpa, which was the only way we could help Jamie. Things were going well until one of the officials seeking a bribe caught on. I am unable give a happy ending to this story, because I was then ordered by the American embassy to stay out of Tegucigalpa.

I met several Hondurans who sincerely wished to immigrate, and I would have been delighted to receive them. Several of these, however, felt they were more needed in their native country. They were entirely correct. These thought of what they owed, not what they could get.

What made me truly sad is that those who were anxious to immigrate had nothing to offer America other than mouths to feed. Many posed as serious risks to American civil life as they were there.

Alright, this was there and then. What about here and now? I guess I am just no longer romantically and ideologically excited about every alien who wishes to immigrate to my country as I was prior to observations and experiences down there.

We need to ask some hard questions before we issue visas and, especially, before awarding citizenship. That is, when we get to ask.