An issue that fascinates me is the one of immigration. There’s such a marked contrast between the sentiments associated with the notion of America versus the real attitudes of Americans. On the Statue of Liberty, it says “Give us your poor, your tired, your huddled masses yearning to be free” but usually Americans are thinking “enough is enough” or “I’m in, so shut the door now”. Even people I know have echoed these sentiments, especially after 9/11. It’s sort of natural for people to feel that way. The Irish were looked down upon when they came here. The Irish then looked down on the Italians when they came. The Italians carried on tradition by hating on the Latinos. Muneer Ahmed illustrates in his essay “Homeland Insecurities” that immigrants do not become American when they are discriminated against. They truly become Americans when they start to discriminate against others. Toni Morrison first said this and she even stated that she felt that hating african-americans was a rite of passage for every AMERICAN; That one only became a real American only after they started hating blacks. In the same essay, Ahmad writes about the curious phenomenon of racial profiling. Prior to 9/11, the most racially profiled groups were blacks and latinos. Obviously,at that time the people most opposed to racial profiling were blacks and latinos. However, post 9/11, the most racially profiled group became the people of south asian and middle eastern heritage. At this point, blacks and Latinos began to completely support racial profiling! It’s quite simple, people watch out for ourselves. Period.
I am not blaming any race or absolving any race. This is all just food for thought.
Personally, I grew up in India and so when I moved to the U.S when i was 17, it gave me a tiny inkling of what it’s like to be an immigrant (despite the fact that i had already lived in the U.S from the age of 5 to 9) I was obviously very lucky to already speak english and come from a financially stable family. However, i still didn’t feel like an “American”. I wasn’t an outsider but i felt most like an observer. Maybe that’s why I empathize with immigrants and I always assume that their lives are hard as hell; and most of the time they are. They often face financial barriers as well as a language problem along with huge anti-immigrant sentiment. This is all especially true in the case of Mexicans.
I’ve always liked Mexicans. I constantly see most of them doing grueling jobs, working tirelessly and the Mexicans I’ve met have always been down to have some laughs and beers as well. For Instance, these Mexican actors were crazy enough to attempt playing Mexicans in Y Tu Mama Tambien, roles that could have gone to American actors like Ralph Machio or Mario Lopez. So, when the voiced American reaction is often to keep these “border-jumpers” from coming in and to “build a fence”, I can’t help but wonder how them wanting to come into this country is any different from my family wanting to come here or any of the other immigrants in the last hundred years. If an imaginary line seperated your family from a place where you could find better work and your kids would have a shot at a better life, would this sign stop you?
All of this is to illustrate what I see as a hypocricy in the way immigration is covered in the media today. Too often, immigrants are depicted as “the enemy” and the reason we can’t get jobs. That is why i was amazed by the story of 40 illegal immigrants arrested in Massachusetts and the multi-millionaire who saved them. Story courtesy of The Wall Street Journal.
Steps In to Bail Out
By MIRIAM JORDAN
NEW BEDFORD, Mass. — One frigid March morning last year, federal agents raided a factory in this old whaling town, arresting hundreds of illegal immigrants as they sewed vests and backpacks for U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Most were shackled and sent to a detention center in Texas, where they faced rapid deportation unless they could post thousands of dollars in bail — money they didn’t have — to buy time to mount a defense.
Then, a mystery benefactor appeared. The anonymous donor ponied up more than $200,000 to spring 40 people from detention.
The payments came from Bob Hildreth, a Boston financier who made his millions trading Latin American debt. He was “infuriated” at the televised images of workers being shipped to Texas, he says. Helping them make bail is “payback.”
“The raid broke families apart,” says the diminutive 57-year-old, who once taught high-school history. “This was extremely un-American.”
In the annals of philanthropy, donations of bail money are unusual. They are also risky for the giver. While none of his recipients have skipped out on bail, it is a real possibility, since the chances of winning the right to remain legally in the U.S. are slim. Bail-skippers would open Mr. Hildreth to criticism that he helped people evade the law.
“He’s going to hear that he’s helping these people stay here who have no right to stay here,” says Harvey Kaplan, a Boston immigration lawyer who represents some of the immigrants. “He’ll get hate mail.”
Most of the people whom Mr. Hildreth helped bail out did enter the U.S. illegally, their lawyers acknowledge. The question will be whether they can claim political asylum or make other arguments to win the right to stay.
The factory raid has been a hot topic around New Bedford, where prominent local talk-radio host Ken Pittman has taken a strong stance against illegal immigration. Upon hearing of Mr. Hildreth’s payments, Mr. Pittman said: “I would ask him to show the same compassion for American workers displaced by these illegal aliens.”
A spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the federal agency that staged the raid, declined to say whether it knew who posted the bail. She said any person is free to post bond for anyone.
Mr. Hildreth is a multimillionaire who built his fortune trading in Latin American bonds during the 1980s debt crisis that gripped the region. “I love making money,” says Mr. Hildreth, who recently traded in his 20-year-old Volvo for an orange Mini Cooper.
He also professes a lifelong love affair with Latin America. As an economist with the International Monetary Fund, he lived in Bolivia in the 1980s. Later, after returning to the U.S., he began trading in Latin American loans at Wall Street giants including Drexel Burnham Lambert Inc. He now runs his own small firm, International Bank Services, which buys and sells corporate debt.
The descendant of Irish immigrants and of Puritans who settled in Boston in 1632, he twice tried his hand teaching, following in the footsteps of his parents, both of whom were teachers. Both times, however, he returned to finance.
A key moment, he says, was a verbal spat with a student over abuse of bathroom-pass privileges. “After four months teaching, I found out I stunk at it,” he says. “I’m an investment banker.”
Instead, he decided to use his money to improve education for immigrants. Over the past two decades, he says, he has given several million dollars to fund literacy and citizenship classes in Lynn, Mass., to build a preschool in an immigrant-heavy Boston neighborhood, and to set up an endowed chair in Latin American studies at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.
The factory raid last March was one of the largest in the nation in recent years. A total of 361 people were arrested. Some were detained on the East Coast, but most were dispatched to Texas, home to particularly tough immigration judges.
The factory’s former owner, Francesco Insolia, was arraigned in August in federal district court in Boston on charges of harboring and recruiting illegal immigrants. Efforts to reach Mr. Insolia’s lawyers were unsuccessful yesterday. The factory is now under new ownership.
Images of shackled prisoners stumbling as they boarded a plane for Texas are what spurred Mr. Hildreth to call Greater Boston Legal Services, a nonprofit group coordinating a legal response to the raid. “I told them to contact me if they had some bonds that needed to be paid,” he recalls.
Nancy Kelly, an attorney at the group, says: “It was almost too good to be true.”
Mr. Hildreth agreed to help individuals post bail if they or their families would also put up a significant chunk of money. The legal-aid group, GBLS, would email Mr. Hildreth with individual requests. He would then wire the money back to the lawyers.
Last May 3, for example, GBLS attorney John Willshire-Carrera sent Mr. Hildreth an email that read: “Bob, we have two more for tomorrow, if possible….Bond set at 5,000, family is paying 2,500. Bond set at 7,500, family is paying 2,000.”
The following morning, Mr. Hildreth emailed his response: “8k sent.”
Mr. Hildreth says the $200,000 tab “ended up being much more than I thought it would be.”
Typically in cases like these, bail is set somewhere between $1,500 to $7,000, although the number can be much higher. For instance, bail for one detainee, Luis Lopez, was set at $28,000 by a judge who is known for particularly high figures.
“It took me a little while to get my mind around that one,” says Mr. Hildreth, who contributed $23,000. Mr. Lopez’s family paid $5,000.
At an event earlier this month in New Bedford to mark the anniversary of the factory raid, hundreds of immigrant families gathered to offer support. Many are Guatemalans of Mayan descent; party-goers sipped cups of hot milk and rice, a traditional Mayan drink.
“What’s this?” asked Mr. Hildreth when someone handed him a cup.
The last person to benefit from Mr. Hildreth’s help was also the last person on the factory floor during the raid. Manuel Perez, who is deaf, was working on a double-needle sewing machine. He was oblivious to the commotion unfolding around him until he finally noticed that his co-workers were “hiding behind boxes,” he recalled recently.
“I am happy to be back with my family,” he added, now back in Massachusetts after getting bailed out in Texas. “I hope to get a work permit.”
So far, two cases involving Mr. Hildreth have been resolved, according to the legal-aid group. One person decided to seek asylum in Canada and another accepted voluntary removal to Guatemala.
Mr. Hildreth recently was told that, once cases like these are resolved, the bail money gets returned to him. So he plans to set it aside as a bail fund for future cases.
“I had no idea the money would come back,” he says. “I had never bailed out anybody in my life.”
Somebody buy this man a beer. He is an exception to everything I said before the article. He is actually still living his life according to the principles this nation was founded on, not today’s beaurocratic and jingoistic nonsense. I especially admire him for calling the FBI’s actions “Un-American”. Cojones, sir. You’ve got ’em. He opens himself upto so much criticism, a prominent multi-millionaire calling the FBI out and helping illegal aliens. His critics scream that he is ungrateful, that he is a turncoat, that he is an idiot. All the while, you get the sense that he knows more than they do. The entire incident reminds me of a classroom discussion from a long time ago. This was during the first leg of my college tour, just before 9/11. My teacher asked “What is patriotism?” Immediately, this German kid in my class responded “Patriotism is hating every country but your own” . We all laughed. Today, I think of how right he was and how his statement’s become truer every day since then.
John Lennon is one of those iconic guys that everybody loves. What’s his signature song? IMAGINE, right? But eventhough Imagine is such a crowd pleaser, the lyrics are actually sorta punk. Lennon wrote,
Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace…
He’s equating the coming of peace with the destruction of all of society’s devices and structures that we are born into but don’t think about. That’s why i give Bob Hildreth credit. For thinking. And acting. After all, people have always looked for greener pastures. Thats a notion as old as the world itself.