(Editor’s note: With the Republicans introducing Senate Bill 6 in the Kentucky legislature, which would make criminals of illegal immigrants and anyone who transports them or hires them, Insider Louisville asked retired banker Jim Wheatley to give us the Insider’s view of the immigration issue. Wheatley now volunteers for a Latino community services center and spends each summer in Oaxaca, Mexico studying Spanish.)

Here is a question for you – why do 15 million people risk their lives to come the United States to live in fear?

Why do they stay?

Last Friday evening I heard a reporter on the local PBS station give part of the answer.

He said that the farmers of Kentucky were calling their state representatives to ask that they vote against Senate Bill 6 because they couldn’t run their farms without immigrants.

Who wouldn’t want workers who work hard, work seven days a week, work for less than minimum wage and have no rights? They come and they stay because we want them and we provide them millions of jobs.

But, why do they come to a place where they are mistreated and forced to live in the shadows?

I can hear some of you saying, “Now Jim, there you go again. These people make choices. If they choose to come, they have to live with the consequences. It’s a choice.”

And, technically you are correct. Can you see how sanitized this is?

OK, let’s play a game.

Your name is José, you live with your wife and three kids in the village where you were born in the mountains of southern Mexico.

You work when you can and make two or three dollars a day, but there is rarely work. There is no potable water or electricity where you live. It is not uncommon for you and your family to go to sleep hungry.

You know that if you can make it to the United States you can get a job that pays $5 or $6 per hour. You know this because others have gone before and they send word that jobs are easy to get in the U.S.

With that kind of money, your children will always have food to eat, decent clothes to wear, even shoes. Now, let’s also assume that you are a hardworking, intelligent and industrious guy. I don’t know about you but I can tell you that I would not spend one second thinking about borders or laws or anything else.

I would start walking north. I would do whatever I could – even risk death – to feed my kids. So you come to the US, you live in a two-bedroom apartment with five other guys, you find a job that pays $6 per hour on a Kentucky farm and you start sending money home to Mexico.

Sounds pretty good. You made it to the USA and now you are sending home $200 each week.

Your family is doing great and your kids are now in school. (School in Mexico is free but you have to have uniforms and books. If you can’t afford flour for tortillas, you ain’t buying shoes. The poverty there really is that desperate).

Life is great! Right? Not exactly.

It is illegal to pay someone less than minimum wage in Kentucky. It is also illegal to hire someone to do a job and then not pay them (which happens). But let’s say that every few weeks the Immigration and Naturalization Service would make raids in multiple places in the country, catch a bunch of illegals and send them back to Mexico.

That will keep illegals from getting restless. They will keep their heads down and not complain about mistreatment because they are afraid and powerless.

There are 15 million illegals here and more coming every year. We send a few thousand home every year in well publicized raids.

You tell me what we accomplish.

We keep them docile, we keep them compliant and we keep them working … cheap.

Until a few years ago, I had no idea this world existed. I was a banker.

It all started out innocently enough.

I wanted to learn a second language. and I had noticed a lot of people at Walmart speaking Spanish. I decided that it made the most sense to learn a language spoken by people in my town.

That way, I could actually talk with someone.

That little decision changed everything.

Because I decided to learn Spanish, I have spent time in Mexico. I have been to the villages and seen the conditions. Because I decided to learn Spanish, I have volunteered at a not-for-profit that assists Latinos. Because I decided to learn Spanish, I have paid more attention.

I didn’t do any of this because I wanted to help any one. I did it for a purely selfish reason. I wanted to learn a new language because I thought it would be cool. But you know, you notice things.

Now I see people walking in the snow and I notice their clothes are too thin and know they are cold. And, sometimes I pass people on the street, look in their eyes and know that they are hungry.

I know what that looks like now.

Sometimes I see something else – fear. I didn’t know this stuff existed before, not in my town. But it’s there. I see it now, and all because I wanted to speak a new language.

“Illegals” are the new American plantation workers.

We have finally figured this out: Don’t go to some place and shackle people and bring them here in boats where the conditions are terrible and a lot of them die. That’s barbaric and it makes us look bad.

This is the 21st century. It is much better to take advantage of the desperate situation that exists in Mexico and other Latin American nations, situations so desperate that people will come here of their own free will, enduring horrible conditions and even death.

Hey, how could it be our fault? They are illegal.

Our hands are clean.

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Jim Wheatley is a computer geek, musician and retired bank president who lives in the Dominican Republic. He prefers Microsoft and PCs, but is not above owning an iPhone.

3 thoughts on “‘I see fear’: Criminalizing Mexican workers in Kentucky promotes 21st Century bondage

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention ‘I see fear’: Criminalizing Mexican workers in Kentucky promotes 21st Century bondage » Insider Louisville -- Topsy.com
  2. Hey Jim, how about people that will break laws and flout a nations soveringty are not really the people you want as neighbors or workers. They same people have little to no education, are a massive drain on social programs and the free medicine we give out and are normally the cause of rising crime in all the areas they inhabit.

    The bottom line is they are criminals for breaking the laws of this land and never intend to become actual citizens. They are here to get all they can and use up as much of the reasource you and I pay taxes for.

  3. Hey Jim, how about people that will break laws and flout a nations soveringty are not really the people you want as neighbors or workers. They same people have little to no education, are a massive drain on social programs and the free medicine we give out and are normally the cause of rising crime in all the areas they inhabit.

    The bottom line is they are criminals for breaking the laws of this land and never intend to become actual citizens. They are here to get all they can and use up as much of the reasource you and I pay taxes for.

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