Thursday, November 20, 2014

This Illegal Immigrant Thing by W. Hock Hochheim

Immigration and Texas ... with the latest news, I thought I would print this true story from one of my books....

     “Units 61, 63, 64, 69 report into the squad room,” the dispatcher said, interrupting the 3 a.m. calm of a fall midnight shift, circa 1977. 

     “Ten-four,” as unit 64, I answered. This was new to me. Several units called in like this? Such a thing not mentioned in the squad room briefing as a meeting or training? This was still my first year at this job in 1977, so maybe everything was still new to me? I drove across town, parked, and walked into the squad room as ordered. I did take notice of four large buses in the front parking lot of the police station. 

     Our shift Sgt. Jackson and Lt. Blue were in the room with about a dozen or so other men and women dressed in brown and some in black. Border Patrol and Immigration. The Feds. 

     Sgt. Jackson spoke up and said that the Feds were raiding several known illegal alien houses through the city, and we were to offer support. He handed us papers with addresses on them. There were three houses just off the interstate in my south-side district. I recognized them immediately. Very large, older wooden homes that we all knew housed illegal immigrants from Mexico. Many illegal aliens. Lots of them. The Feds were gathered to arrest them, and the buses in the front lot were for transport. 

     The other officers present from our agency had done this work before. As a rookie in Texas, I hadn't; but I gathered the Feds would be doing all the heavy lifting. I noted they were armed and badged up. We all filtered out to the parking lots, and I introduced myself to the guys hitting District 64. 

     “Anything in particular you want me to do?” I asked the senior agent. 

     “No, 'podna.' Not really. Just be there in case something happens. We like to have local law enforcement present.” 

     I nodded. Frankly, anything that didn't involve any extra paperwork was just fine with me. I mounted my squad and drove over to the first house on the list, leading the way. I parked up the street and waited. Several black sedans slowly drove by me, waved at me, and parked quietly by the house. Suddenly they all bailed out, and I followed suit. No car doors were slammed. They flooded the massive house front, sides, and back; and I didn't quite know which way to go to help. I was a professional sore thumb.

     Silence shattered! Doors were kicked in, some windows busted out. Yells. Screams. I heard all kinds of intro shouts, 

     “Federal agents!” 


     “US Border Patrol” 

     I had nothing to say to add to that. I dashed through the splintered and bashed front doors…. 

     Once in the living room - well, it was once a living room - I saw quite a number of people were sleeping on the floor in makeshift beds. Mexican women screamed and children cried as they emerged from various hallways and doors. They were not shoved by the agents. Herded. Some men busted a move for a door or a window. One ran for the front door, and I played a game of side-to-side tag with him until an agent grabbed him. 

     Honestly, it felt like I was in a science fiction movie where they rounded up the people for some reason, like Soylent Green or something. When you are actually part of the process, it's different. Agents outside were still yelling.

     Everyone was handcuffed. Man, woman, but not child. Long lines were formed. Two buses were called in on a handheld radio. I stepped out onto the yard. The buses pulled up in front of the house, making those old, big bus brake-and-stop screeches and gush sounds. The doors were shoved open by levers; and an odd hue of yellow and orange lights came on, peppering the lawn and street. 

     I was surprised at the long line emerging from the house. That many people were in there? Sleeping? Living? They were seated on the buses. A bus and a half of Mexicans. The remaining agents jogged to me and passed me.

     One said, "The second house." 

     Okay then, to the second house we go. I started my car and waited for the agents to get into theirs, and off we went. It was only three blocks away. The same game plan unfolded. The third house. The same again. I drove back to the station along with the last of the buses and agents. The diesel engines of the buses groaned and chugged in the city hall parking lot as the agents said goodbye to us. They climbed into their cars and drove off with the buses full of Mexicans.

     I stood on the lot beside Lt. Blue who smirked at me and said, "They gotta do that every once in awhile." He turned to the rest of us and said, "You all check back into service. Just fill out a general report for the dispatch card." 

     We wandered back to our squad cars. It was about 6 a.m. now, and a red sun was just barely cracking open a new day. I still had a few things to do before shift change. I got behind the wheel of my car but sat still for just a moment. 

     That was weird, I thought. Three houses raided. Crying women and kids. Men. Bus loads of them. Carted off to Dallas where they would be "processed." I had an idea what that meant. Then shipped back to ol' Mexico? Probably see many of them back in three weeks. 

     Weird because about six blocks from the police station, about twenty or more illegal Mexicans would soon be gathering at a well-known street corner looking for day work. Seven days a week. And nobody cared. Not us. We weren’t raiding them. In fact, people needed the help. Nobody would raid them. We would not cram them in buses every single morning for deportation. Not us. I guess not the Feds either because they only came once in awhile.

     I recall every other Texas city I'd been to has these "street corners" of Mexicans; like hitch-hikers waiting for a ride, they waited as construction bosses or whomever drove by and picked up workers. Housewives drove by and picked out guys for landscaping. In all of my years, I can’t recall a single problem from them. 

     In fact, we'd see dozens of illegals every day everywhere. Dozens and dozens of them. In stores. Walking around. Everywhere. Did we arrest them? Why not? 

     The moral of the story, the thing most people wonder about the good ol' days, is why every cop in Texas, every cop in any border state and eventually in all 50 states weren't arresting busloads of illegal aliens back then. Just as the newer laws in states like Arizona suggest, you only arrest them when your paths cross legitimately. 

     Here's how my old agency handled this. Back in the day, we were ... unofficially ... required to do at least "five pieces of work" each shift. That is, let's say 1 ticket, 1 arrest, 2 crime reports, and an accident report. Or any combination thereof of any significant police activity. Too much of one thing meant you were obsessing about one topic. Well rounded was appreciated. There was no "mark," no piece of work for an illegal alien arrest on that basis alone. Such was uncounted and unrewarded. ANYONE could walk out into the street and fill a busload. We simply could not handle the enormous job and could not over-reward some obsessive officer who did five illegals a day to make their unofficial quota. So they simply went unaccounted for. The operative order was leave them alone unless something happens that causes you to take such action (and even then, it didn't count as an illegal immigrant arrest. It was an arrest, plain and simple,for a charge). I certainly did not want to arrest illegals back then. Too much paperwork! You could investigate the immigration status. Sure. But such was used as a tool for some other goal. 

     I think in the late 1970s, the word came down from the Feds that we were to stop arresting them at all for those charges. Like an official freeze. It came from so far up the chain, said to be "the Feds," that we did not know who issued the command. At first, it seemed like a temporary legal issue. But it never went away.

     I became a detective and discovered other related problems. Illegals were afraid to report crimes. Afraid to become witnesses. Fugitives fleeing to Mexico. Lots of problems. We had to work with the local so-called "coyotes" and then some of what might be called Mexican Mafia. These were area people who transported, hired, and housed these people. Some of these guys were taking a percentage of their pay, selling them cars with never-ending payments ... it was much like the old coal mine stories. 

     "You load 15 tons and whatta ya get, another day older and deeper in debt." 

     We had a local kingpin who owned and operated out of a barber shop. I'll call him Mayan Cando here. The shop looked like the northeastern mafia pizza parlor or some such place the Sopranos would operate. Cando had a gaudy mansion in town with very old-school Mexican design architecture. He ran the runners, the housing, the jobs, and the justice. Made loans. Smuggled relatives in for fees. 

     Sometimes he would be a big friendly help to us and other times a real pain in the ass. I dealt with him on a very grass-roots level. A personal level about Hispanic on Hispanic crime. Sometimes to chase down Hispanic fugitives. It was that classic, uneasy, creepy alliance. I never quite knew how I would be treated when I walked into the Cando Barber shop on a case. 

     The USA has big problems now. Security problems. I want everyone to enter legally. I have no great solution to offer to this mess. I do like that expression "tall fences and big gates." This would help some to clean out the underworld, shadow network that prostitutes these poor people. 

     Today in my old city, the Latino groups have constructed picnic grounds, park-like areas for those standing around seeking some morning "pick up" work. This evolved through time. Like a fancy, covered bus stop. Almost daring the authorities to challenge the spot and the cause? It is an uneasy alliance. The cops drive by. They wave. We wave. The employers and housewives stop, hire, and pick up. The Mexicans work very hard in the heat and in the rain and on holidays. It is almost like the people ranted about in the news are not the same hardworking, friendly people I know and we see and like in our neighborhoods everyday down here in Texas.

     Yeah, yeah. I get the big picture. Yeah. It's important to remember, this ain't no "perfect union." The country is just a "more perfect union." One shot full of holes, trying to be more perfect. But anyway, in this old gringo's mind - and I not the least bit religious - if I said, “God bless em all,” I think you’d know what I mean.

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Coming soon!

     This book will be published in early 2015. Available in oversized paperback and e-book.