I wonder daily, really, what life is like on the other side of the windowpane that separates the legal resident from the illegal.
I wonder if the skinny, young Chinese woman working in the restaurant is legal. I have noticed her because she works so hard: She is there when it opens and when it closes.
The restaurant is family owned, so I wonder if she is there legally — a link in “chain migration” — or illegally, in a kind of servitude. The chain is forged when a legal family sponsors other family members, who can then come here preferentially, welcome and free.
If she came here otherwise, say on a tourist or student visa, and did not return to her home country, then she is in danger of a knock on the door, handcuffs and the horror of deportation. And if she is arrested for a crime, no matter what, she is closer to the door.
I also wonder about the Mexican family that detailed my old car so well in the July heat. Cash work without a paper trail tells part of their story. Did they walk across the border from Mexico together or separately? The women speak English, but not the men. Were they a family before or after coming here? Are some of them here legally; will children lose their fathers, wives their husbands, if there are deportations?
Meeting agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), wearing black windcheaters with “POLICE” on top of “ICE” emblazoned in white on the backs, must be a heart-stopping experience. These are federal enforcement agents, police, not paper-pushers. This is rough stuff, not community policing.
I listen to tales of deportations: families torn apart, and people sent to countries where they were born but had never resided. I wonder if these people are yearning for U.S. citizenship and the ability to vote. Mostly, I think they are yearning just to live here in peace, free from the fear of a knock on the door from ICE agents.
Mark Jason, a friend who lives in Malibu, Calif., has devised a way to deal with illegal immigrants that eschews the brutality of deportations and the emotional hostility that amnesty for them provokes in some Americans. He calls it the “Third Way” and for six years, he has been promoting it with his own money.
Like many good ideas, Jason's plan is very simple: He wants to create a 10-year, renewable “Special Work Permit” with an additional dimension: holders need to earn the permit by complying with our laws and paying a 5-percent tax on their wages, and their employers will also pay a 5-percent tax.
Taxes collected from these permits would amount to $167 billion in 10 years, according to Jason's think tank, the Immigrant Tax Group. “Payments could be facilitated by cell phone and computer technology, and the immigrants gain their freedom with certain rights and can assimilate more easily,” Jason said.
“These payments would be used to provide hospitals, schools, policing and prisons in the local communities where the immigrants live. This third way is a win-win that can be implemented simply,” said Jason, who is a retired budget analyst for California's university system and a former IRS agent.
If I am right about the status of the young Chinese woman and the Mexican family, they could all live the American dream, working without the fear of a knock on the door: the knell that sounds for all who live in fear of the state and its agents, who have terrified down through the centuries.
Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of “White House Chronicle” on PBS.