The devil came down to Georgia in the form of ICE raids.
We drove into town today to get a massage. As I noted in an earlier posting a massage can be very good for your health and helping straighten out your joints and bones and relaxing your muscles.
Afterwards we thought we drop by our favorite Mexican restaurant, La Salsa, to have some tacos al pastore and maybe a couple of cold Dos Equis beers. But when we got there, the parking lot was empty. I went to the restaurant and pulled on the door handle and founded firmly locked. I went next door to the Tienda - the small Mexican market that does wire transfers and sells various sundries - but that was also locked. What was really strange was that the park benches normally up in front of both businesses were placed inside, on their sides. Apparently they were going to be closed for some time but also apparently closed in a real hurry.
I asked the neighboring businesspeople what happened to the restaurant, but they had no idea what was going on. I had a sneaking suspicion - and an increasing dread - as to what was happening. If I want to find out anything that's going on in the Mexican community in our town, I knew who to call - Pope Juan.
Our friend Juan works for the local Catholic Diocese. He has his hand on the pulse of everything that's going on in the Latino community in Southeast Georgia. We texted him and he responded that there's been a major ICE raid on our town and that things are "pretty bad."
I got to thinking about our favorite waiter at the restaurant. We called him Clark Kent because he wore thick glasses like Superman's alter ego. He was a handsome young lad who came here as a child - one of those "dreamers" that you hear about. He hardly spoke any Spanish as he was raised in America. And in fact our attempts at Spanglish fell on deaf ears as he was more proficient in English.
I worried about him and the other employees of the restaurant. Would they be sent back to their own country? Where was that Home Country exactly? If they were sent back to El Salvador or some other crime-ridden country, it could be a death sentence. Not only that, with all of their contacts and family in the United States, what would they do in a country that was foreign to them? Our friend Clark barely spoke Spanish - how would he survive in a country where he had no family, no contacts, and could barely speak the lingo?
The irony, to me, was that we have a training center here in Brunswick call the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, which people refer to as "Flea-tech" or "Fletsie." And every day, during the lunch hour, the FLETC trainees would come to this Mexican restaurant for lunch - many of them wearing ICE uniforms. I wonder how many of the same people were involved in this roundup were arresting the very same people who are serving them tacos the day before.
Now granted, some of the folks they're rounding up came to United States illegally. They did not have their proper citizenship papers or residency permits. And under the law, they have no recourse other than to be sent back to their home country. But it seems like there's something wrong when somebody is here for 10, 15, or 20 years only to be sent back at that later date. Why, suddenly, do we feel these folks are a threat and need to be deported?
Under the law (actually, equity), we have concepts known as laches and estoppel as well as in real estate law something called "squatter's rights." Basically, if you have legal rights to something and you "sit on your hands" for a decade or more, you are deemed to have voided your rights.
For example, if you get into a contract dispute with someone and you write them a letter telling them they are in violation of the contract and they need to cease and desist at once, and then you fail to follow up on that for a decade or more, your rights to sue might be voided. The opponent could argue that your silence was an asset to their breach of the contract and your failure to take action over a long period of time voided their right to sue later on. People have a right to rely on things being settled.
Similarly, if you occupy a dwelling or property openly and notoriously for a decade or more, in many states you may end up owning that property. I wrote a blog entry on this before and noted that it's very hard to do. If you occupy a house, pay the property taxes, and put your name on the mailbox make everybody aware that you live there, after 20 years the homeowner can't come back and say, "Hey, you have to leave! I own this place!" He had 20 years to throw you out and he can't claim ignorance of the matter if your occupancy was open and notorious.
It seems to me that these legal concepts are analogous to the immigration situation. We have allowed people to cross the border with a wink and a nod and have hired them in our economy to do essential jobs that no one else will take. We haven't deported these people or in fact made any effort to track them down until now. They have lived here openly and notoriously, often paying taxes at the jobs they work at. And they have acted in reliance on the silence of the government as an asset to their living here.
Now, decades later, we say, "Gee, you're breaking the law! You have to leave!" even though we've known about this for years and years and taken no action - and in fact benefited from their hard work in our society.
There's something else that disturbs me about this, at an emotional level as well. The idea of policemen rounding up people and hauling them off to detention camps - for-profit prisons run by friends of the President in fact - and holding them there for months at a time before shipping them off to these foreign countries seems somewhat Orwellian. Or perhaps even Naziesque.
When we have raids like this where the police swoop down and start hauling people away en mass, it makes me wonder how long it will be before they start hauling me away as well.
The devil has come down to Georgia. And he walks the Earth in an ICE uniform.
I wonder if the folks from the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center will have the balls to show up at this restaurant ever again.