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Friday, March 31, 2006

I broke the law and loved doing it.

Ok.....We have broken the law. There I said it. Take me and my beautiful wife and throw handcuffs on us and take us away. You can use our handcuffs if you want.

What are we guilty of? We have helped illegal immigrants for over twenty years. I cannot even get the word illegal alien out of my mouth or through the keyboard for they were not. These were and remain fine people and grand friends who have not only enriched our life but made America a better place to live. You may not agree but these have been some of best we have known.

Twenty years ago my bride and I lived in the guest house of an estate in Orlando. The house was in the middle of a large orange grove and had a great deal of privacy. The groves included oranges and mandarin oranges and it was my job to maintain the lawn, the grounds apart from the groves and to show a presence on this large property. The main house was a small miracle in Florida sun for it had been built by an officer in the Army Corp of Engineers and was designed to stay cool without air conditioning even in the hottest of summer temperatures, something we could not do with modern homes without the A/C.

The woman who owned the house, a Mrs McDonald, would visit once a year usually pre-summer. She would say she was coming to visit often but would never show giving some excuse about life in Washington D.C. This I gather was to keep us off guard and wondering. She had married a elderly diplomat who had the Army Corp of Engineers design the house years and years earlier. When she did come that first year she brought with her an assistant, an older woman who spoke no English, who did all the manual labor for Mrs. McDonald and for the house. This woman worked so hard that I frankly was a bit ashamed that I liked to sleep in on Saturdays. My bride because of her first marriage to a Spaniard was and is fluent in Spanish. It was she who tentatively began a relationship with Bessie. She would bring her a glass of water or visit with her when she did laundry. Soon it was apparent that Bessie was not only overworked but frightened as well. Bessie had been approached in her home country of Chile by Mrs. McDonald. Several of her friends had worked for the woman in the past. The offer was to come to the United States and work for her in Washington D.C. and in the mean time Mrs. McDonald would help Bessie acquire paper work for either a green card or some permanent status. Bessie had worked for the woman now over three years for very little money, all she made would be sent to Chile to support two children who were waiting for her either to fetch them or to return to Chile. In the meantime she put up with the eighteen hour days, hard manual labor and very little rest in the hope of gaining a new life. Bessie was stocky not very tall and not someone who would make a fuss over anything. She was not, however, happy.

For Bessie what occurred was neither a new life nor any hope of a future but a form of indentured servitude. Mrs. McDonald would routinely say that if Bessie would not do what she asked she would turn her in as an "illegal alien". Ok, I said the word. The fear of such a suggestion left poor Bessie mentally cowering in fear much the same as with "battered wife syndrome". She was terrified to leave or to contact anyone she might know for the fear that the U.S. Government would put her in prison. She was fed a bunch of half truths that no one cared for illegals and they were persona non grata. Mrs. McDonald had taken Bessie's passport for safe keeping when she arrived in the United States. Bessie believed that she must work for the old woman or she would be in jail. All Bessie wanted to do was to work, make some money and send as much back to Chile as she could to make a better life for she and her two children. It was Cindy who decided to strike. She arranged for someone to come by the house. Bessie would gather her belongings and meet them at the end of the road. They would take Bessie to their house and then send Bessie to some friends out of town. It was cloak and dagger stuff in the middle of the night. Bessie was terrified of course. But, once my wife has something in her mind.... get out of the way. Needless to say, if asked we knew nothing of the adventure and gratefully nothing was said to us for several days. When the issue of Bessie being absent was brought up by my wife, we were told she was visiting friends. Fact is the underground railroad worked and no one would mention Bessie again until Mrs. McDonald returned to Washington D.C. By fall of 1988 we had purchased our house in which we live and never saw Mrs. McDonald again. The large parcel of land was divided up and several hundred homes today remain in a gated community so popular in Orlando. That artfully crafted and luxurious home was unceremoniously torn down. It got in the way of the development plans and with it the oak trees which were years and years old to keep the entire house in shade. A tool used by the Corp. to keep the house cool.

Bessie, eventually moved in with us. For years she lived with us helping my wife and I raise my two children. She was not the last. There was Racquel..........she is from Columbia and worth a completely fresh blog. Michael from Mexico. Maria from Columbia. A lovely fellow from Mexico who I remember as being one of the nicest humans I have ever met. We had some trouble along the way from a woman and her man friend from Ecuador, There was Erica from Cuba, her family had escaped and because she was Cuban she had a different status, Why?-Different politics. And Anna Maria, a gorgeous Columbian whose beauty never escaped the young hispanics in our area. Got some training about being a Dad with a daughter then. There was a family who came from Venezuela. The Mom, Dad and the four children. Never met a harder working group than that one. The children remain in touch and one of them graduated third in her class from a local High School. I fondly remember my Mexican cohort. Who love to play pinochle and loved my kids. You love those who love your kids. The list goes on even now. None of these people ever wanted or asked for a handout. All they needed was a hand. Whenever I needed anything they were there in a heartbeat whether it meant changing a transmission in a car, painting my house, cleaning a garage or loving my children, they were there to help and to contribute.

Each works twice as hard as I ever imagine someone might. Each has done well, some going home with money in their pocket to gather the paper work to move here with papers, some gaining legal status through the system, and some remain in a non-citizen status or immigrant, cannot say the word. They are not alien to me or my family. These good folks are what America should be about. They come because they love their families and need to give them a better life. You would do the same given their choices. I know I would.

When the issue of illegal immigration comes up I say this: Find a way to let these people come here legally. They are going to come whether you like it or not. They love their family! They need to work. We have work and we can pay them and there is work that others do not want. Find a way to secure the borders. Good fences make good neighbors-that is what my neighbor says! And create a method to handle those who can show they desire to be United States Citizens. If they do not want to stay fine but let us bring some sensibility to this issue. And while you are factoring such remember I have broken the law as well. I am just as guilty as someone who comes to Orlando to see Mickey and stays for five years. Just as guilty as someone who has traveled 250 miles over the dessert, been hungry, thirsty, cold and willing to do anything to get here. I am just not as brave! I am just not as courageous to leave everything and everyone I know and go somewhere new because you are told it is better and the Americans are good people. Let's be good people here and do the right thing!

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