"Oh, Maria? Another Gin and Tonic, Please."

Right now the total unauthorized population in this country of 340 million is around 11 million. It's about 3%. And they mostly all came for a few reasons; to work, not starve, and not be killed.

"Oh, Maria? Another Gin and Tonic, Please."
Cinco de Mower

Over the 41 years of my very happy married life, we have built 3 houses. Two were in Texas and one in Wyoming where I was a Regional News Director for a few years. Construction is a tough job, and in a brutal Texas summer, about as enjoyable as going 5 rounds with Mike Tyson armed only with a salad fork.

I even wondered if something like a termite tent would at least keep the sun off, but the contractor just laughed at my suggestion, the consensus being, these are tough guys. Don't worry about it.

Termite Tenting in Miami | Fumigation

And they are. But, whether in Houston humidity, for which evolution will ultimately give you gills, north Texas or the mild summers in Wyoming, there is one thing I always found. Walk up to any building site and you'll see hardworking men and hear music blaring from boomboxes. What kind of music? Well, it won't be "Free Bird," "Okie from Muskogee" or "Ain't Too Proud to Beg," and obviously, my choice of redneck or soul music examples betrays my age. But you will hear a lot of Norteno and Conhunto melodies keeping the troops entertained.

And the reason for that is the point. The workers are probably mostly illegal immigrants. The houses built for us were terrific and we regret leaving them to this day. But the men who built them were no doubt employed illegally and also no doubt, underpaid. The fruit and vegetables you buy in the store, the guy who busses your table in a nice restaurant, or cleans the kitchen, the maid or lawn guy, or if they are lucky enough to go to school, the Latina nurse at your bedside were likely illegal when they arrived.

And that is the dirty little secret in this country. The two parties have a deal.

man in white dress shirt sitting beside woman in black long sleeve shirt
"That's a deal. You get 'em mad, and we'll give 'em jobs."

Democrats want what used to be a pretty dependable Hispanic vote, and Republicans love to rail to the base about some sort of invasion. It works for both come election time. On the GOP side, we've even lurched into Goebbels territory in some of our descriptions, and by our, I mean the Ghost of Christmas past, the proprietor of Mar-A-Lardo. Oh, and by the way, according to the Washington Post...

The Washington Post reports that the Trump Organization currently employs a “roving crew of Latin American employees” to perform masonry and maintenance work at his winery and various golf clubs around the country. For almost two decades, the group has been comprised of workers who came into the US illegally according to two former crew members. Another one, who still works for Trump, told reporters Joshua Partlow and David A. Fahrenthold that remains the case today. President Trump “doesn’t want undocumented people in the country,” said Jorge Castro, an Ecuadorian immigrant without legal status who left the company last spring after nine years. “But at his properties, he still has them.” He added: “If you’re a good worker, papers don’t matter.”

So as Doc Holliday said...

The fact of the matter is, if you are in Mexico, trying to feed a family and dodging cartel recruiters who want your son, living with 160% inflation in Argentina (not to mention having just elected one of the 3 Stooges as President); or Venezuela, where you can start with Chavez and move onto Maduro in the competition for most incompetent Czar in training, can you honestly say you wouldn't try to leave?

The fact is much of Latin America is collapsing economically and politically, or already has, and that leaves desperate people willing to spend everything they have, and risk dangers that are in some cases unimaginable, to escape. Which leaves the US to make some tough decisions.

At one point Texas Republican Senator Phil Gramm said...

“It is delusional not to recognize that illegal aliens [from Mexico] already hold millions of jobs in the United States with the implicit permission of governments at every level, as well as companies and communities.”
"Yes, OK, the accent is Georgia, not Texas."

Yes, Phil freaking Gramm. Gramm, in some sort of episode of common sense tourettes, also declared...

"We could put a million border patrolmen standing side-by-side along the border and still not solve the immigration problem. Solving the immigration problem on America's southern border depends on creating an economic environment in Mexico in which people can afford to stay home. There is no force on earth that's going to stop a starving Mexican from coming across our border if here in the U.S. he can get a job and support his family."

Say that today in the Republican Party and you'll be exiled to whatever island Mike Pence lives on now. And that's the problem. When a hungry immigrant looks at the United States he sees a giant "Now Hiring" sign. For $50-100 he can get some phony US documents, and that is only important if an employer looks at them. And if they do bother, they can probably spot the phonies and even then, it doesn't matter. If caught, and that is unlikely, they simply say, "he had papers."

Let's look at the arguments of our duly elected group of Keystone Kops. Abbott and Patrick (or Goeb if you prefer) say it is an "invasion." Our buddy Oberleutnant Dan, from the German version of Forrest Gump, says they are bringing "third world diseases" to Texas. This from the guy who treated Covid like hay fever. But I digress. He cited "tuberculosis, malaria, polio and leprosy." OK, from a Politifact fact check...

"But the story quoted a physician, identified as Tim Metz, the top epidemiologist at the Texas Department of State Health Services, as saying there wasn’t a known case of polio in the Western Hemisphere when Patrick spoke "and we haven't seen it in decades."
According to the Observer, Metz said malaria, a tropical disease spread by the anopheline mosquito, is easily treated and remains "a rare disease in Texas and not a huge problem." Leprosy, he said, is known today as Hansen's disease and "we have no more than 50 cases a year that are reported, but it's not on the rise." As for TB, the physician told the Observer, "we'll have 1,500 or so cases in Texas this year, which might be a slight increase, but we've got very effective TB-control programs in every local health department in the state."

This is the same stuff spouted by the frontrunner for the Republican nomination, and I have zero doubt that none of the above fact-checks will be believed by his supporters. And of course, remember our Dan blamed the Texas Covid surge on unvaccinated African-Americans, not the lax protocols that he and the Gov, the Stan and Ollie of state politics, put in place. Better to blame black and brown folks for everything, so...uh... they can expand the GOP base? I'm sure there is a dimension in space where that calculus makes sense.

short-coated black dog sitting
"Wait, what?"

The fact is, there are jobs we just don't want to do. If that orange you just enjoyed wasn't picked by a machine, it was picked by a Mexican. The house you live in was no doubt built by a Mexican, and later cleaned by another one. If you have a lawn guy, he's probably Mexican and so on. Minimum wage in Texas is $7.25. Who will do those jobs for that? And by who, I mean what citizen? Oh, I know there will be some exceptions to the rule, but that's why it's a rule.

That farmer in the valley isn't hiring college students for the summer. He knows who he has to hire if he wants his prices to be competitive. And what if he's caught? There are a series of fines and, maybe if he is guilty of harboring illegal workers, there could be a state jail sentence. But according to the Texas Tribune...

The workforce commission is also supposed to police the kind of fraud that enables rampant hiring of undocumented immigrants by employers who dishonestly classify them as independent contractors instead of employees. But since the law took effect in 2014, the agency had penalized just 49 employers and issued only $138,000 in fines — $93,000 of them still uncollected as of late October. The agency says state law keeps secret the names of the people or entities fined. 

"This is before I realized glasses make me look smart."

In fact, way back when Governor Goodhair was in charge, a bill was proposed to crack down harder on employers. The bill was opposed by the late Houston billionaire homebuilder Bob Perry (no relation),  known for being the money behind the infamous “swift boat” ads against 2004 Democratic nominee John Kerry; and Charles Butt, the billionaire chairman and CEO of H-E-B Grocery. When that opposition was known, the bill died a swift death.

Right now the total unauthorized population in this country of 340 million is around 11 million. It's about 3%. And they mostly all came for a few reasons; to work, not starve, and not be killed. Only 46% speak no English at all. 93% of the young people up to 17 are enrolled in school. Only 4% are unemployed. 21% of them are in construction, 16% in food services, 14% in professional, scientific, management, administrative, and waste management services, 10% in manufacturing and 8% in retail.

Contrary to popular, and political belief, if you aren't a citizen you don't get government benefits like SNAP.

Then there is the issue du jour, the importation of fentanyl. No matter what some political shyster wants you to believe, it's not coming in with some guy swimming the Rio Grande. The CATO institute is so conservative, they're still undecided on leaving Britain in 1776. They pointed out a few things about drug smuggling...

  • Fentanyl smuggling is ultimately funded by U.S. consumers who pay for illicit opioids: nearly 99 percent of whom are U.S. citizens.
  • In 2021, U.S. citizens were 86.3 percent of convicted fentanyl drug traffickers—ten times greater than convictions of illegal immigrants for the same offense.
  • Over 90 percent of fentanyl seizures occur at legal crossing points or interior vehicle checkpoints, not on illegal migration routes, so U.S. citizens (who are subject to less scrutiny) when crossing legally are the best smugglers.
  • The location of smuggling makes sense because hard drugs at ports of entry are about 97 percent less likely to be stopped than are people crossing illegally between them.
  • Just 0.02 percent of the people arrested by Border Patrol for crossing illegally possessed any fentanyl whatsoever.

That aside, no one in either party, especially Democrats, can minimize the sheer numbers involved here. 2 million encounters this year alone. Now, to explain, that involves lots of multiple attempts by some folks meaning multiple encounters with the same guy, but it is still a daunting number. And remember, even during the 1950's it was roughly a million a year.

The idiotic floating barriers stretching all of 1000 yards was a preposterous waste of money, as would be a wall with defined end points that you simply go around. I say around, but why walk all that way when it's so much easier to climb?

Well, this would be worth every penny. It would delay an illegal immigrant by 9 seconds.

No one wants to minimize the burden the latest influx creates for border towns. But a reasonable, organized way to equitably sort the migrants into true refugees and others and then move people around the country, or even back to Mexico, could easily be devised to replace Abbott's "Screw Democratic Mayors" approach. What it primarily involves is manpower. Yes, border security is important, but a wall is about as useful as it was in China or Berlin. There are more effective, and technological ways, to spend that kind of money.

"Excuse me, but, Operation What?"

Now, you could indeed deport lots of folks as was done in the 1950's under, I'm not kidding, "Operation Wetback." I know, I know. INS claimed they sent a million people back to Mexico, though it is now figured at around 300,000. This while the so-called Bracero Program was bringing Mexicans in legally to work the fields of America. We have been nothing if not inconsistent in our view of immigration.

But let's face it, if you really want to crack down, crack down on employers.

"OK, just think about it,. Rog."

And that's about as likely as Michelle Pfeiffer pounding on the door demanding I run away with her. Which of course, I wouldn't, honey. No, really.

Roger Gray has toiled at the journalism trade since 1970 and his first radio news job at KTRH in Houston. Over those woefully misspent years, he has worked in radio, TV and written for magazines. He was twice elected President of the Texas Automobile Writers Association and was elected to the Texas Radio Hall of Fame. He covered the first Persian Gulf War, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the reunification of Germany, Oslo Accords in Israel and peace talks in Ireland. He interviewed writers, actors, politicians and every President from Ford to George W, and none of them remember him.
Now, he is part of the Texas Outlaw Writers, and if this doesn't pan out, the outlaw part will still work as he will indeed resort to robbing banks.