An Immigrant Worker
Everyone living on the east end of Long Island is familiar with the fact that many outdoor workers – most, it frequently seems – are Hispanic. Some of these workers are legal residents of the United States and some are not. Although homeowners are aware from constant media attention that the “immigration problem” is being hotly debated in public forums, the average homeowner pays little or no attention to the matter. Companies that provide landscaping and pool and tennis court services do not discuss the matter with homeowners and workers in the back rooms of restaurants and resorts are not of much concern to those who patronize them. There is a broad disconnect between general awareness that these workers are often illegal immigrants and the fact that they are human beings who come to this country to do what most of us do: to work and earn a living.
Con Cuidado! I’m shouting from my seat on the porch to a workman in the yard who has climbed a tree and is leaning over with a chainsaw to remove a dead limb. The small, nut-colored man, with neatly cropped jet-black hair and a forlorn expression, has been working tirelessly for several hours since the landscape company dropped him off. I don’t know this man, but I know enough to conjure his story: He’s from Mexico or Central America and has undertaken great risks to come to the United States. He has relatives back home, perhaps a wife and children, who rely on his earnings. He frequents the store a half mile from my house that transfers money for Spanish-speaking customers to places south of the border. He lives in squalid conditions in a house crowded with other such men like the circus cars when we were kids.
The State of Arizona has passed a law known as the “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act.” The Arizona law is intended to increase the ability of police officers to arrest illegal immigrants so that they may be removed from our country. Supporters of the Arizona law envision such people as evil aliens who violate our borders and flaunt our laws.
The federal government has sued the State of Arizona to enjoin enforcement of the Arizona law. It contends the field of immigration is preempted by federal law. Other states are carefully watching what is occurring in Arizona. Some are considering similar laws.
The workman is now coming down from the tree and placing the severed limb in a pile he has assembled. He is breathing heavily and drenched in perspiration. His sleeveless T-shirt and oversize shorts hang limply from his body. He barely stops working long enough to catch his breath.
I go to the kitchen and take a Coke from the refrigerator and cross the yard and offer it to the workman. Quieres un Coke? He looks at me sideways and fearfully, wondering if I’m thinking about his immigration status. No necessita, he tells me, but his parched lips and dripping chin tell me otherwise. De nada, I tell him and push the Coke into his hand.
Federal Judge Susan Bolton has ruled on the government’s motion for a preliminary injunction. She has carefully examined each provision of the law and determined that the federal government is likely to succeed at trial with respect to four provisions. She has determined that irreparable harm would be suffered if she did not enjoin enforcement of those provisions. Judge Bolton’s judicial craftsmanship was excellent. From a lawyer’s viewpoint, she did her work perfectly.
The landscape company’s truck is arriving in front of the house and the workman takes the pile of limbs and branches and places it on the truck. There are two other men in the back of the truck, by their look also Hispanic. The truck drives off with the three men in the back. I will probably never again see the workman I have been watching.
I will think about a small, nut-colored man, with neatly cropped jet-black hair and a forlorn expression, every time I hear about the matter of illegal immigrants.
I will hope
there is room within the laws of our country to notice that he is a good worker, that he is lonely and far from home and that he gets thirsty on hot summer days.