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The Truth, Mainly - 01/16/2006

Being nice to the tired and the poor?

Let me admit before I go any further that I am not in the middle of the road on the question of how we ought to treat Mexicans illegally crossing the U.S. border. Here's why: My experiences with folks from Mexico have been almost universally agreeable. To wit:

•When I was in grade school, my father hired a Mexican immigrant to trim up the few trees we had in our Kansas back yard. I watched him do it. And whenever a limb would fall to the ground, Mr. Ortega would say "Adios." I'd never heard anyone say "Adios" to a falling tree limb, and it seemed to me a wonderfully kind thing to say.

•Later, when I was in high school, Mr. Ortego's son, Willie, was a year ahead of me. We were in a school where it was nearly mandatory that every male go out for the football team. I was not a very good defensive end, but Willie was, and he went out of his way to say nice things about my efforts—and to treat me as an equal.

•Four years later, in 1954, a friend of mine and I went into a cafe in Clayton, New Mexico, on our way home from the horse races in Raton, New Mexico. We'd been betting the ponies for three days, and on the last day we didn't cash a single ticket. We were flat broke, hungry, and nearly out of gas. The saint disguised as a waitress in the Clayton cafe, Dolores Sanchez, listened to our tragicomic story and then lent us $5—in those days enough money to pay for our hamburgers and malts and for sufficient gasoline to get home on.

•And in 1982, our daughter, Amy, was a member of a Spanish class that was flying down to Mexico City for a first-hand look at the culture. But en route, her appendix burst and she ended up in a Mexico City hospital. The hospital specialist in such matters—I think his name was Dr. Ruiz—performed the necessary surgery to take care of the burst appendix. By the time I got to Mexico City four days later, Dr. Ruiz had flown off to Paris to deliver a paper on peritonitis. The hospital graciously allowed me to sleep rent-free on a couch in Amy's room while we waited for her to heal enough that we could fly back to Lincoln. Dr. Ruiz' wife and daughter drove us around to see the sights in Mexico City on several of those days, then drove us to the airport when it came time to leave.

So I'll say it again: The people from Mexico that I've been around have almost always been nice folks.

And that leads me—in an indignant tone of voice—to some questions:

Why do we treat Mexican citizens as heinous criminals if they try to cross the border into the U.S. without the proper papers? Do we treat them the same way we treat Canadians who cross the border illegally? Do we treat them the same way Mexico treats U.S. citizens who cross into Mexico without authorization?

The Truth, Mainly


And why is the U.S. House of Representatives even considering a bill that would make it a felony to help Mexicans trying to cross the border?

What that means, according to a story by Michael Riley in the Jan. 2 Denver Post, is that it would be a crime for U.S. church groups, among others, to continue leaving bottles of drinking water along the Mexico-Arizona border in an effort to avoid a repetition of the deaths last year of "at least 279 people" who died from the heat and lack of water while they were trying to enter the U.S.

It also means that it would be a crime for an Arizona organization called "No More Deaths" to transport border-crossers to a hospital or a church for medical treatment.

And it means that even if I had the chance, Mr. Ortega, Willie, Dolores, Dr. and Mrs. Ruiz, I'd never be able to look you in the eye again.

And that loud splashing noise we just heard? I'm guessing it's the Statue of Liberty collapsing into New York Harbor.

You know, the statue that's been there since 1886, standing on a pedestal on which is engraved Emma Lazarus' famous poem that ends with the words we all learned in junior high school:

"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!"

Well, it's pretty to think so.


Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail address is: leonsatterfield@earthlink.net.


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