off the grid: my new thoughts on immigration

let me preface this blog with the suggestion that some might find it offensive. that being said, i’m very upset. here is why:

today, i was involved in a hit and run accident. i was driving along travis street…a detour i took to avoid traffic on the way to help out with my friend’s theatre company’s gala. while driving in the far left lane, i get hit by a car to my right as we are crossing west alabama. as soon as i can take stock of what happened, the car had backed up and sped off down west alabama. this happened so fast that i couldn’t get a good look at the license plate. not content with this injustice, my temper got the best of me, and i took off on a wild chase to catch up with this bastard. so, i started my car back up and followed him. he managed to get through a red light right before me…so he was quite a ways ahead. i suppose he thought he was safe, but i kept an eye on him as he drove away down alabama. i was able to see where he turned off…at some point, he became aware of my following him and started driving faster. but finally, i was able to trap him between two cars…at which point, i parked my car in such a way that he was blocked and couldn’t drive away.

sidenote: i realize this was absolute insanity. had this man been violent, i could be dead right now.

so, he got out of the car. and i gave him a piece of my mind. of course, as soon as i stand up out of my car, my legs start to wobble and give out under me. (shock setting in.) but i am so angry that i will not get back in my car for fear of his driving off again. regarding the man who hit me…hispanic. didn’t speak english. driving what appeared to be a fairly new potiac grand prix. all new stickers. we will call this man joe for the sake of discussion.

joe couldn’t understand anything i was saying. i told him i thought it was pretty terrible that he hit me and then, drove away. blank stare. no response. fortunately, he wasn’t angry. it was only when i told him that i was going to call the police that his ears perked up. ‘policia?!’

‘si.’

so, i call the police, because at this point, i become increasingly convinced that i am going to be out of luck in this situation. that joe won’t have insurance…nor any way to compensate me for the damage done to my car. the whole right side of my car is smashed…what appears to be thousands of dollars of damage. how on earth will joe pay for it? in any case, i want a police report. i speak very slowly and make big gestures of getting his license plate number and pictures of the car. in other words, i wanted to make it very clear that he shouldn’t try to leave again. the police operator suggests that i only get his license plate and file a report at the station later. i’m stubborn and don’t accept this suggestion. the operator tells me it will be a bit, since there was a disturbance to which several officers were responding. i tell her that’s OK…that i will wait. (honestly, i would rather the police potentially prevent someone from getting hurt before they come to me.)

so, eventually my dad shows up, as well as the police probably 30 minutes later. the first police officer who shows up gets all the basic information from me, but is at a loss since she doesn’t speak any spanish. finally, a second officer arrives who does. he divines that joe:
a. doesn’t have insurance
b. doesn’t have a valid texas driver’s license
c. has only an expired mexican license

in other words, there is a 95% chance joe is illegal. i ask the officers if he is. one gives me a dry look and said, ‘what do you think? but, thanks to our dear mayor, we can’t ask or we’ll get fired.’

sidenote #2: i appreciate that joe is being cooperative. i also find out that he is only 23…although i would have guessed mid-thirties, as he looks much older. as mad as i am about my car and the fact that i will most likely be paying out of my pocket for something that wasn’t my fault, a part of me feels very sorry for joe. he’s probably just some young, stupid kid who is scared. however, i don’t want to paint him as an unfortunate, as his clothes and car did not suggest that he was financially struggling in the dire sense.

anyways…the police are civil to joe, but ticket him on 3 accounts:
a. moving into my lane and colliding
b. failure to have insurance
c. failure to have a driver’s license

i ask about fleeing the scene. the officer tells me that since i actually caught him, they can’t ticket him for it. go figure.

at some point, the spanish-speaking officer tells me that joe has mentioned paying for the damages to my car. he suggests i take the offer, but that i be careful about how i handle it. the other officer gives me some ‘off the record’ advice…that i invoke the name of the police to get the payment from joe. i think it is probably unwise to get falsely hopeful. this was someone who tried fleeing the scene…is it likely this is necessarily someone who will fulfill his debts? in any case, the officer suggests i threaten to show up on his court date. i don’t like this kind of game-playing, but i am also not keen on being held accountable for the whole accident. what is the right thing to do?

but the whole matter leads me to my bigger point: illegal aliens. folks, i am as sympathetic to the cause as i can be. i believe immigration should be possible for people of all extractions… from any country, etc. but this can be accomplished legally. i do not suggest it is easy, but can we really be tolerant of people living off the grid? i was just telling someone the other day about my affinity for mexico city. it’s irrational, but i would have to say that i prefer dirty, crowded mexico city to any other place i’ve traveled. why? because i got this incredible rush being there. it was exciting…but profoundly scary. why was it scary? because standing in the crowded zocalo, i had the sensation that i could have been ripped off the street, dragged down a remote alleyway, and NEVER heard from again. in a lawless land like mexico, it is possible to fall completely off the grid. and while terrifying, i was fascinated by this feeling. it made everything immediate and amplified the feeling of being alive…survival.

having come back from mexico city, i tried to explain that sensation to my friends who had never been there. and i failed miserably, since i couldn’t compare to anything else i had experienced. it was only when i watched the denzel washington movie ‘man on fire’ that i finally had any point of comparison. the first scene features someone getting abducted from the zocalo…and THAT feeling of terror is exactly what i was trying to express.

today’s experience made me think of things in a different light. there is no easy solution to the illegal immigrant problem. but can we just be lenient? should houston be a refuge for illegal immigrants? i feel it important to stress that these sentiments are not influenced by prejudice. i strongly feel that the ethnic diversity of houston is part of what makes it so special. and furthermore, i have the utmost respect for those immigrants who go through the painstaking process of becoming legal. but had i taken the operators advice today, i would have had an absolutely meaningless license plate number. a license plate number that couldn’t be connected to a driver’s license…nor any person. why? because there was no driver’s license. so, a person like myself is left with absolutely no recourse at all. no way to seek justice. mind you, this was a car accident…what if it had been a rape or murder? how can we pursue someone or punish someone who, according to our records, doesn’t exist?

i think we should all think carefully about this situation before we get up in arms either way about the immigration problem. consider how you might feel the next time a ‘nonexistent’ person attacks you, steals your things, or hits your car and tries to run. i am left torn…not knowing how best to proceed. i have no desire to cause trouble for joe or his family…but should he not have some responsibility towards me? should he not have some responsibility to follow our city’s laws, as someone enjoying the benefits of living here?

nothing in this world comes for free. if you leave one country for something better, that, too, comes at a price…should it not be the price of legally calling yourself an american?

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~ by ladamesansregrets on October 6, 2007.

One Response to “off the grid: my new thoughts on immigration”

  1. First off, I give you kudos for addressing such an inflammatory topic with a great deal of objectivity when it would have been very easy to let this situation turn you into one of those ranting anti-immigrant crazies. For the record, had I been in your situation, I probably would have been in jail right now for assault.

    In any case, this is truly one of the hardest issues we, as the USA, must deal with in the next 10-20 years. It’s very hard because there are illegal immigrants in this country that are good people who work hard, obey the law and generally contribute to the greater good. On the other hand, there are legal immigrants who are nothing more than leeches on the system.

    On one hand, you have good people whose lives you could destroy with tougher immigration laws. The latter group we would all like to be rid of. Personally, I think instead of tougher immigration laws, we need tougher laws instituted that protect us from the leeches while not uncessarily targeting the good people who deserve to stay here, illegal or not.

    The man that hit you should be thrown into jail or deported immediately, but send him to jail in Mexico. Let’s see how these people handle the threat of being imprisoned in the country they were so eager to flee unless they play by the rules of this country.

    Still, you’re going to run into the problem of an illegal immigrant is still an illegal immigrant, regardless of their stewardship. That is a problem we may never get around.

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