Thursday, August 04, 2005

Alien Nation

It hasn't been such a good week to be an immigrant in the good ol' U.S. of A. I should start by saying these news items aren't funny, because they are horrible. But there's something about them, about imagining these uniformed authorities befuddled by their difficulty in predicting their targets' behavior, that WOULD be funny, if it weren't ruining so many people's lives.

The New York Times and everyone else reports that a drug sting in Georgia, designed to catch convenience store owners selling products for making methamphetamine, has been complicated by cultural confusion between the authorities and the Indian immigrants they arrested. The idea was for informants to drop hints about their intended use of the suspicious products (cold medicine, kitty litter, tin foil), and if the convenience store owner didn't report them, they were busted. You can imagine the problems a language barrier could cause here: "finishing up a cook" might not set off alarm bells in a non-native speaker's head. Not to mention my head, where it would set off great big alarm bells, but relating more to a lack of command of standard syntax rather than a suspicion of drug manufacturing. Anyway, the really tricky thing about this case, besides that they've arrested at least one innocent person because all those dang furrners look alike, is that 32 of the 44 people arrested have the same last name - Patel. It reminds me of the scene in the Pierce Brosnan version of the Thomas Crown Affair where all the people dress as Magritte's Man with a Bowler Hat and the authorities can't figure out who's who.

In this story, the Associated Press reports that 30 children were left stranded when 119 people were rounded up in an immigration raid in Arkadelphia, Arkansas. When a poultry plant there was raided, some of the people arrested were able to call relatives to arrange for care for their kids, but thirty children were left with no parents. The Immigration spokesperson's defense was that they had asked every person they arrested whether they had children, and every one of them said no. What surprises me is that Immigration didn't stop the presses right there and call the AP themselves - 119 people working in a poultry plant for what I can only guess are chickenshit wages, and NOT A SINGLE ONE of them has a child. That's got to be a scientific aberration right there. And, uh, if you deport people for a living, aren't you familiar with the possibility that deportees might not want to tell you about their kids out of fear that they will get deported too? Call me crazy, but it sort of jumps right out at you.


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