Friday, October 12, 2007

Migrant must go, and $49,000 stays, U.S. says

Pedro Zapeta lived out the American Dream earing money that the U.S. government now wants to deny him. He should be rewarded by being allowed to stay in the U.S. as he is an example to us all of how we can live lives more economically than we do. -Dra. Valenzuela

Miami Herald
Posted on Wed, Oct. 10, 2007
Migrant must go, and $49,000 stays, U.S. says

After nine years of washing dishes, Pedro Zapeta managed to save $62,000. Then he lost most of it overnight. Not to addiction or street thugs. To the U.S. government.
Customs agents confiscated $59,000 of Zapeta's money when he tried to board a plane home to Guatemala (he had another $3,000 in his pockets) in 2005. It's not illegal to take that much money out of the country. But it's illegal not to report it on a special form. Zapeta didn't know that. He's not a frequent flyer.
Earlier this year, U.S. District Judge James Cohn levied a heavy civil penalty for Zapeta's mistake: $49,000. Zapeta was graciously allowed to keep the remainder of his earnings. Then he was kicked out. He has until January to leave the country.
Exhausted and bewildered, Zapeta wants to go -- but not without his money, which everyone agrees he acquired through honest labor.
''You can imagine the great effort it took me to earn that money and when they took it, it caused me a great sadness,'' Zapeta told me in Spanish. ``But I know there is a God who is great and good, and I know he is looking down and will help me.''
Zapeta's story, initially reported by the Palm Beach Post, exploded after CNN recently ran a segment on him. By this week, dozens of bloggers were weighing in from Omaha to Denmark.
Reaction ranged from the sentimental to the outright vicious. That's because a simple story of outrage is muddied by the circumstances of Zapeta's arrival in the United States: In 1996, Zapeta admits, he entered the country illegally through the Texas frontier. Later, he bought a fake Social Security number for $25.
He spent the next decade working -- sometimes 13 hours a day -- scrubbing dishes and pots in Stuart restaurants. He never filed an income tax return, but some of his pay stubs show that his employers took taxes from his wages, says his attorney, Robert Gershman. Zapeta rode his bike to work and lived quietly. He labored hard at tedious work and earned his pay.
None of that satisfies the few embittered nativists who (lacking imagination as well as heart) have copied the same screed from site to site: ``Deport Pedro Zapeta Sans $59,000.''
Sure. And while we're at it, let's round up speeders and impound their cars.
Fortunately, the hate-mongers are outclassed by those who know the punishment is way out of proportion to the crime. One blogger quoted scripture: ''The wages you withheld from the worker who mowed your fields cry out, and the cries of the worker reach the ears of the Lord of hosts.'' Another offered to trade Guatemala one for one: ''Lou Dobbs for Pedro Zapeta. We'd be getting the better end of the deal.'' An Oregan man wrote his representatives on Zapeta's behalf: ``So deduct the taxes, give the man his money and deport him, although we could use more people like him.''
Since his story became public, people have donated $10,000, which his attorney is keeping in trust.
Part of the outpouring is due to Zapeta's sad story. His break across the frontier was motivated by the kind of poverty that most Americans can't understand. His hard life here was sustained by the hope of one day returning to Guatemala to build a home for his mother and four sisters. For 11 years, he carted his money around in a bag, afraid to wire any of it. ''I thought I'd take it with me all at once,'' he told me. ``My only regret is that I've stained my name here.''
The ''crime'' he's being punished for is not illegal immigration. It's a bureaucratic technicality meant to catch drug dealers and smugglers, of which he is neither. We can disagree all we want on immigration policy; it takes an especially hateful nature to argue that a man is not entitled to his wages.
But there's another appeal to Zapeta's story. At a time when most Americans are deep in the red and the national debt rises by more than $1 billion a day, Pedro Zapeta may be the last man on earth who still embodies the great American ideal of thrift and hard work.
He never owned a car, rode his bike everywhere and denied himself every luxury beyond rent and electricity. If Zapeta were wise to the ways of popular culture, he'd pitch a self-help book: How to Think and Grow Rich on Minimum Wage.
Zapeta doesn't care about any of that. He just wants to get home to his family. That's understandable. But I think the authorities should reconsider.
Anyone who can amass $62,000 in nine years should be forced to stay here and teach the rest of us how to do it.


pablo cortés said...

yes, i´m agree with tha aplication of law... but, where is the except about ignorated what law say?
of course, i dont know anything of americans law, however.. is it the respect of human rights?

Course taught by Angela Valenzuela said...

Test to see if my posting of this comment works.

Dra. Valenzuela

Course taught by Angela Valenzuela said...

I'm posting this for Jackie:

This guy's story is really sad, but there is a reason for every country's "bureaucratic technicalitys" an these are things immigrants are forced to respect no matter how unfar they can be; specially if we
are talking about an illegal immigrant who bought fake doccuments to stay in the country (I know that's not why they're judging him) but this is a honest hardworking guy who unfortunatedly broke the law and didn't report that money in a simple form.

I think both parts should be listened and make an arrangement. Maybe he should pay a civil penalty for this mistake, but a reasonable one. Laws should be flexible in cases like this.

Course taught by Angela Valenzuela said...
This comment has been removed by the author.