Friday, August 5, 2016

My Immigrant Encounter

Yesterday it was time for a haircut. Unlike my wife, I'm not very particular who cuts my hair. I usually go to one of those "guys only" places and roll the dice. It's a different girl every month practically, but they all seem capable so what the heck, right? Well, yesterday I got a new stylist...Anna.

Anna shook my hand and introduced herself with a timid, whispering voice. Her smile seemed forced and cautious. She was Hispanic. Her English was fine but she spoke with a thick accent. Making small talk, I observed that she must be new since I had never seen her before. "Yes...I am new. Would you like the MVP?" 

Anna stood out like a sore thumb. Unlike the usual loud, flirtatious banter common at a where guys get their hair cut, her attempts at conversation were whispered, polite and careful. Mostly she went about her business with single-minded concentration. There was an odd sadness about her. Still, she practiced her craft with great gentleness and care. It was a great haircut.

When I went to pay, I entered a more generous than usual tip in the gratuity line of the ticket. When I gave it to her and she saw it, she actually lifted a hand to her mouth in astonishment, looked at me with tears in her eyes and whispered the word...gracias.

The subject of immigration is a lightning rod issue nowadays, although for millions of people like me the issue isn't immigration itself, but rather...illegal immigration, which is no mere distinction without a difference. I have no idea whether Anna is an immigrant or an illegal immigrant. I would assume that since she has a job and speaks English, she is probably here legally. If not, then my first instinct would be to find the owner  and throw the book at him/her! In my opinion, the real villains in the illegal immigration saga are the employers who hire them. As for Anna, well that's where I get mushy. Even if she is here illegally, I have a hard time working up any indignation towards her. When I met her, she was in hour seven of a ten hour shift. She looked exhausted and lost, and yet she smiled and did her job with great care and skill. It's very hard not to root for someone like Anna. 

Of course, the cynical reader might point out that perhaps I would feel differently about the Anna's of the world if they were all trained investment advisors, competing in my business, willing to work for half the fee. True. But, to compete in my line of work, Anna would have to be here legally. There are just too many federal paperwork requirements in the investment world to overcome without proper documentation. Still, it's a valid point. But, as a human being with a beating heart, I suppose I have a gigantic weak spot for anyone willing to leave hearth and home to come to America seeking a better life. I want Anna to make it, and I'm not interested in throwing her on a bus and sending her back where she came from arbitrarily. But, while my heart beats, it doesn't bleed. We are a nation of laws and we must enforce them. Opening the borders to all comers, no questions asked is national suicide...hence the problem.

The solution has to contain elements of both the rule of law and enlightened compassion. Crafting that solution will require people of good will, intelligence and imagination in the halls of power.

Good luck with that.