Monday, June 24, 2019

The Third World Next Door

There's a wonderful new program that trains students for missions by visiting refugee/immigrant communities in Houston, Texas where half the population speaks a language other than English.
It's a great program, don't get me wrong, It's a lovely idea. I just think they can go farther with this idea.

During my heyday, I worked with folks in what the Texas government calls "colonias". Now the term colonias has a very narrow, politician-defined meaning. It must, for instance consist of a settlement with poorly constructed houses, often with little or no insulation, no electricity except what could be stolen from nearby businesses or directly from light poles. There are lots of people killed trying to wire their shacks, especially during freezing weather. Running water is rare. Sewer service and trash pickup are often non-existent. Transportation is dependent on employers offering semi-slave jobs. AND they have to be within something like 150 miles of the border to be a colonia and receive federal and state dollars. It's not accidental that communities within 150 miles of the border tend to be the stronghold of one particular party that has encouraged the establishment and filling of these tar-paper communities for decades.

The trouble is there are a couple of dozen colonia type settlements in deep rural East Texas, a lot farther from the border. So these settlements legally defined as colonias and don't get political attention much. The Texas legislature is trying to do something about it, but they aren't getting a whole lot of cooperation from the "loyal" opposition party - especially not the ones that aren't Demoocrat strongholds. These illegal immigrant camps are a whole lot like the worker camps the railroads and mining towns used to build back in the 1800s that Tennessee Ernie Ford sang about in the song "Sixteen Tons".

Like our War on Poverty welfare programs, colonias are designed to punish anyone who tries to escape this particularly oppressive form of indentured servitude. Except with indentured servitude you had a time limit. Life in colonias is a sentence without a visible end. Try to escape and the boss man calls a friend in ICE and gets your fuzzy hindquarters sent back to Mexico. With legal refugees and immigrants, there may be a period of hard work and sacrifice, but the future in America holds promise and opportunity for them and a path to citizenship. For illlegal immigrants, especially those from Mexico, there is only a slightly better form of poverty and endless, often brutal work.

That's why we must close the border and create a legal path for guest and migrant workers to enter the USA. It will take both actions to solve the problem. Guest workers could then come in to the US under the protection of the state and federal Departments of Labor and OSHA. Of course, then the big campaign donors and corporations that exploit illegals would lose there wildly underpaid servants. 

There is a mission field out there calling out to our church, often hidden nearby in poverty-stricken towns you didn't even know were there. I worked with one nonprofit program where we quietly developed transportation to town for the mothers in those colonias to buy groceries and supplies. We used church buses. When we started, coyotes with pickups would drive the ladies to town piled in the bed of the truck. The women would buy saleable commodities with food stamps and trade them for a ride home. The going rate was $85 worth of food stamp purchases for the ride home. That way they got around the law against transferring food stamp dollars to the guy who was driving them. Typically they would shove 5-10 women in the bed of the truck, and get up to $800 or so in goods in exchange. This was being encouraged and coordinated by big flower nursery owners, chicken ranchers and processors, dairy farmers and big commercial farms.

Looking for a mission field? The colonias needs more than religious tracts in their own language. And these guys aren't just facing language barriers or cultural barriers or racial prejudice. These guys are being oppressed right here in the United States. It's an enlightening visit to a third world right next door that you probably don't know about. 

Want to help oppressed third world peoples? Take your church van to a colonia (or for that matter your own van) and offer the ladies a lift to town. Raise some money to provide heaters in winter. Perhaps pay for a light pole and breaker box to be dropped in the neighborhood. Find a spot and dig a well or deliver cases of bottled water. Set up food bank days for those living in colonias. You'll get in trouble for your kindness with the people hiding these places as their own personal slave camps, but in the process you can shine a light on the enslavement of people simply looking for a safe place to raise their kids. There are still honest people in the media and in elected office. Appeal to the good guys. They love it when you do and you'll quickly discover who the good guys aren't.

Of course, you'll probably anger the oppressors in the process and you may want to travel in pairs, go armed and check under the van for funny wires before you drive out there to the colonias.

Anybody supporting "illegal" immigration and who do not want to enforce the border must share the responsibility for the continuation of this deep level of oppression of a desperate people. Immigration must be regulated, not to keep out undesirables as the leftist media try to characterize it. Controlling the border is about making sure that what happened to my Irish ancestors or your Italian, Greek, Chinese and Japanese ancestors back in the days of the "company store" and unsafe coal mines, dangerous railroad building work and migrant abuse doesn't happen in the 21st century when we're supposed to have grown to be better as a society than that. We're supposed to be compassionate, yet we tolerate a system that pours willing slaves into the gristmills of cheap labor dependent industries. Sorry for getting on my high horse again, but my trips to the colonias were deeply disturbing and seeing the good citizens who abused these people parade their wealth in local social circles and donate millions to put their names on buildings on the backs of illegals was sickening.

We need to cut off the flood at the border and funnel it through legal channels. Want to see exploiters of illegals wither up and die on the vine? that's how you do it. If you just look away you're abetting this evil system. If we create a legal path to work for guest workers, then they can appeal for help to government regulators the same as citizen workers can, if employers underpay them or force them to work in dangerous conditions.

A controlled border is about cutting off the flow of desperate human beings into the maw of thecruel third world of undocumented slave labor camps. Want to do mission work? Visit the colonias. Get your hands dirty. Don't just throw a bag of burgers out for the homeless alongside the road and rest on your unearned moral superiority. Get up on your horse and visit your representatives in government. Talk to the media. There are still honest reporters. Shine a light on the exploitation. Say something out loud about it. Organize your church. Build a food bank in an empty room and keep it stocked. Drive out to the colonias with a load of food and distribute it to the mamacitas and the children. Do something to directly help them, but don't stop there.

Vote for people who will stop this self-imposed slavery. There's a better way to get these folks jobs with dignity in jobs "Americans don't want." It's an American tradition to provide immigrants with jobs for unskilled workers. What is not a product of our uniquely American idealism, is the evil (yes evil) setting of caps on people to prevent them from rising in the world to escape their poverty. Wouldn't it be nice if rose growers, farmers, dairymen, chicken processors and such had to provide clean places to live for migrant workers and access to food and training in how to speak English and manage money. We did all that in migrant communities in East Texas when I was there. Good church people taught ESL classes. Banks sponsored classes in money management.

There's so much more we could do for the Third World next door if we'd open our eyes to it. But as Joy Behar once said, it's unpleasant to see and "deal with" and it's so much easier to shove (my word) the responsibility off on the government and tell yourself "I care about those poor people."

It's time more people like the couple who helped start the Houston program get up and go out among, not just legal immigrants and people who are okay but just foreign and unconverted. It's time we make a hard push in and among the truly oppressed. We Adventists have a history of doing that and building communities, digging wells, and teaching children. Ellen White's son shocked some of his brethren by going among Southern black communities after the civil war and preaching, teaching and helping emancipated former slaves become truly free.

It's time our church got back into that business in a big way, especially in Texas where I come from. If we were to put a stop to the exploitation of illegals and get control of the problem, Texas is the perfect place to work that change. We are a blended society. Hispanic Texans fought alongside American immigrants at the Alamo and San Jacinto. There's hardly a third generation Texan that doesn't have a Garcia or Rodriguez up their family tree. We even have a special language - Tex Mex that blends English and Spanish. Our favorite foods in Texas are blended cultural dishes.

So why aren't we out there in those dark colonias, modern-day slave labor camps, doing some good. Well, for one thing, it's hard work, but there's no reason the local churches and border conferences shouldn't be sending warriors into the slave camps to bring relief and the word of God to a people who truly need it. For another thing, your community leaders aren't going to give you permission. They'll likely discourage you, but since when do Adventists do the easy thing or ask for permission to do God's work.

Okay, getting down off my podium now. Think about it though. I challenge you all to look beyond the "Wall" and the "Open Borders" easy ideology and think about how we can solve the actual problem. We can get our crops picked without abusing the pickers. And yes, some day the pickers will want to get an education, learn some skills and rise from the fields to become more than they ever thought they could be, with homes, cars, children in college and plenty of food on the table.

Don't worry my liberal Adventist friends. There will always be a steady supply of entry level workers waiting at the border to come to del Norte where opportunity awaits even the poorest of the poor so long as they are legal. And by the way, these people have a work ethic that puts the Puritans in the shade. That's the value they bring to America if we can just keep the bosses from crushing that spirit. And helping lift people up is a huge witness for Christ by the way.

Okay, now I'm done preaching.

© 2019 by Tom King

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