The Line Becomes a River: Birthright citizenship is the root of the fight over family separation

The Line Becomes a River is by a guy who worked as a Border Patrol agent between 2008 and 2012. He is outraged by U.S. policies that result in families of migrants being separated:

No father should be kept from his family this way, no father should have a young son and wake up unable to hear him in the next room.

A big portion of the book concerns two undocumented immigrants whose children were born on U.S. soil. Due to “birthright citizenship,” the children are U.S. citizens despite the illegal status of their parents. When the father is caught and deported, the parents decide that the children and mother need to remain in the U.S. so that the children can have maximum opportunity (and once the 15-year-old turns 18 he can sponsor his dad by right for a Green Card).

From Mom to the immigration bureaucrats:

Lupe wrote in Spanish on lined school paper borrowed from her children: I Lupe Balderas declare that José Martínez-Cruz is my husband since the year 1999. We have 3 boys age 15, 10, and 8. … now we miss him very much because I Lupe cannot take my boys to the park because lately I have been unwell. My husband took my boys to play soccer every Wednesday and on weekends he dedicated his time to us to eat and go out and now we miss him. My husband has given sixteen years of happiness and love to my sons and me but we won’t return to Mexico because my boys don’t know anyone there and they speak very little Spanish and it’s very difficult to adapt to another country when their whole life has been here they were born here and they are growing here. For us as parents we want the best for our sons Diego, José Junior, and Vicente. … we give hope to God that very soon we will be together because God does not like to see his children separated.

From a son:

Hi I’m Diego Martínez I’m the son of José Martínez I’m his oldest son I am 15 years old. I have two younger brothers. One is 10 and the other is 8. I’m working to keep my brothers happy to buy them what they want to keep them happy. Well my dad José is the nicest guy I know my dad is like my best friend and my father. I treat my dad with so much respect he’s the father any kid would want to have. My mom and my whole family broke down when we saw him at court on the first court he had everyone started crying. … I miss my dad he knew how to cheer us up when we were down. He took us to the park on Monday and Wednesday to play soccer with our church friend he got along with everyone at church my dad was the coolest person most nicest, most religious, most caring person always made my mom happy, always putting a smile in our faces every single day he’s also very smart and very funny. … How I feel right now about my dad being in jail and seeing him like this makes me really sad depressed my father isn’t here with us everyone that asks me about my dad makes me sad to say he’s in jail. My heart kinda stops pauses and breaks down on every letter they send him he was a man with three children and one woman. Each one of my friends I’ve had for many years loved my dad because he took us to places like to any place appropriate, to mountains in the west to parks to many places in the city. My dad did anything to make us happy now my life is depressing hollow my dad’s not here. A missing place for him here waits.

Thanks to modern telecommunications and transportation, the family can talk 24/7 and actually get together regularly:

I asked Lupe about the boys and she told me that an uncle with papers had offered to take them across the border so they could see their father.

A week later I checked in again with Lupe. Did the boys see José? I asked. Yes, she said, but not Vicente. He just got his arm put in a cast. He’s a little sad, she explained, he hasn’t seen his daddy since he was in court. Lupe told me that José was still at the border, that he planned to cross again soon, maybe this weekend, that everything was fine, that he told her not to worry.

I wanted to confess to her that I wished I had the courage to smuggle José myself, to ferry him safely through the desert, past the sensors and watchtowers, past the agents patrolling distant trails and dirt roads, past the highway checkpoints.

From the father:

For a while, you know, a couple months ago, after I had tried to cross again and again, I finally started to think that maybe my family could come live in Mexico until Lupe and I could arrange our papers. I even mentioned it to the boys on the phone. We don’t want to live in Mexico, they told me. We don’t know anyone there. We like it here, they said, we like our school.

When Lupe and I went to get married, the pastor told us that it was important to grow a family, that it was important for children to see their parents together. Es de mucho valor una familia unida. Family should stay together. If I must stay in Mexico and my wife raises my boys alone, they will be getting less care, less love, and so the family will slowly deteriorate. Being a parent is a job that you share, it’s a job you have to be present for.

Some politicians in the United States think that if a mother or father is deported, this will cause the entire family to move back to Mexico. But in fact, the mothers and fathers with the best family values will want their family to stay in the U.S., they will cross the border again and again to be with them.

If I am arrested crossing the border, I understand it’s part of the system. I realize that I am crossing illegally. But it’s complicated, you see. I know I’m breaking the rules, but it is necessary because my family is there. I don’t want to cause harm to the country, but I have to break the law. I have to. Es una necesidad. It is a situation of emotion, of love. Those who accept staying apart from their family are without love. Their children grow up without love. So I must fight against this.

I don’t want to carry drugs across the desert, I don’t want to get myself into more problems, but sometimes it’s not a choice. The same people who control the drug smuggling control the human trafficking, so in some places if you want to get across, you have to carry a load.

To be honest, I would rather be in prison in the U.S. and see my boys once a week through the glass than to stay here and be separated from my family. At least I would be closer to them. So you see, there is nothing that can keep me from crossing. My boys are not dogs to be abandoned in the street. I will walk through the desert for five days, eight days, ten days, whatever it takes to be with them. I’ll eat grass, I’ll eat bushes, I’ll eat cactus, I’ll drink filthy cattle water, I’ll drink nothing at all. I’ll run and hide from la migra, I’ll pay the mafias whatever I have to. They can take my money, they can rob my family, they can lock me away, but I will keep coming back. I will keep crossing, again and again, until I make it, until I am together again with my family. No, no me quedo aquí. Voy a seguir intentando pasar.

The final paragraph above is actually the last paragraph of the book, prior to a brief Epilogue.

The book reveals what I think is a fundamental contradiction in our laws occasioned by birthright citizenship. We cannot bear the idea of the federal government separating families. At the same time, we won’t simply allow anyone who claims to be the parent of a minor child to enter and stay in the U.S. forever. If the child is a U.S. citizen, however, there is no way to implement our stated values. We cannot deport the child. We insist on deporting the parent. But we also insist that the federal government should never separate parents from children.

[Separately, the author is a product of U.S. state government separation of parents from children via our no-fault divorce laws. His mom has been through family court so many times that the author thanks “three fathers” in the Acknowledgments. Mom of author did not meet her own father until she reached the age of 17. Until that age, the only contact that she had with her mother’s former partner was a photograph. Like Elizabeth Warren, Americans are eager to see children separated from one parent in the event that an American adult wants to have sex with some new friends (and will offer significant cash incentives for this behavior), but they’re inconsolable if children are separated from one or both parents in the event that a parent is detained and/or deported.]

Helicopter enthusiasts and Airbus salespeople will appreciate The Line Becomes a River. Whenever there is a need for transportation, a Border Patrol Eurocopter spins up. It might be a dehydrated migrant. It might be looking for a corpse in the desert.

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La Traviata: first opera performed on the Outer Banks

I was fortunate to be among the first 600 people to enjoy a fully staged opera on the Outer Banks of North Carolina: La Traviata.

Three charitable foundations got together to make a professional production possible in the swank community auditorium that was built in 2004 as part of the First Flight High School, adjacent to the Kitty Hawk Monument/Airport.

Local hero Tshombe Selby was a powerful Alfredo. It’s easy to see why he was picked up for the Metropolitan Opera chorus. Wayne Line brought a truly huge baritone to the role of Alfredo’s dad.

The women were equally good: Sarah Joyce Cooper in the title role of Violetta and Caroline Tye as her good-time girlfriend Flora.

One of the fun parts of the program was finding that the conductor’s name is also “Violetta”: Violetta Zabbi. Her parents back in Communist Odessa watched Teresa Stratas in the Zeffirelli movie and were inspired.

As with a recent La Boheme (see below), it was nice to see opera in a smaller venue, bringing the form back to its roots in 17th century Italy. The 3,800-seat Metropolitan Opera House would be great if not for the existence of video cameras. Given the existence of video, however, why would anyone want to see a live opera from seats that are so far away that binoculars are required?

The smaller venues give younger performers a chance to grow and develop. Cole Tornberg, Gennaidi Vystoskiy, and Erik Tofte were able to shine as Gastone, Doctor Grenvil, and the Marquis D’Obigny. Debra Kasten was appropriately discreet as the courtesan’s maid Annina. John Adams, in black tie with cane, was convincing as “Baron Douphol, the man who has been supporting Violetta.”

Sets were simple, but effective. The audience was never in doubt as to where the characters were.

Related:

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Learning the history of aviation from the U.S. government

The U.S. government-produced video running behind the replica Wright Flyer at the Wright Brothers National Memorial shows the arc of aviation starting at Kill Devil Hills and ending with U.S. government-run programs such as the Blue Angels, the USAF, and NASA. All advances occur within the U.S. Entirely left out: the importance of the Wright Brothers’ time in France (the U.S. government was initially unreceptive to the Wrights); the first modern airplane (Bleriot, in France); the British invention of the jet engine (led by Frank Whittle); the jet-powered commercial airlines and airfreight services that have enabled our global economy:

Note the two propellers driven by one engine. What kind of rating would be necessary to fly that today? It is not “multi-engine” per se, but what if the drive to one prop fails? It would yaw just like a multi-engine plane on a single engine.

[Also potentially interesting: in the official government history of aviation, after Wilbur and Orville Wright completed their 1903 flights all of the notable advances were made by women. In the photos above, for example, Bessie Coleman is important enough to cite by name while the Tuskegee Airmen appear in an anonymous group (thanks for your 1578 combat missions, though!). Olga Custodio, the “First Latina to complete US Air Force pilot training,” is cited on the “Inventors” screen (Wikipedia does not credit her with any inventions). Amelia Earhart is featured (why not Jacqueline Cochrane instead?) and also Louise Thaden (from Bentonville, Arkansas, now an important center of aviation thanks to the Walton family). Sad: Kalpana Chawla is cited as the “first woman of Indian origin in space” (she was killed due to incompetent group decision-making (by government workers) in the foam-damaged shuttle Columbia).]

The wing-shaped stone monument started in 1928 is awesome: “Conceived by Genius; Achieved by Dauntless Resolution…”

The North Carolina state government set up its own monument in 2003: a life-size bronze sculpture by Stephen H. Smith of the team launching the first flight. Photography nerds will appreciate the bronze view camera!

The original takeoff and landing locations from December 17, 1903 are marked with impressive stones and engravings. Example:

[I wonder if these locations are approximate, though. There was no GPS back in those days. I don’t think the Wright Brothers bothered to make a careful survey of the sandy/scrubby field and then leave permanent survey monuments behind for future generations.]

AOPA members will appreciate seeing their dues put to good use in a pilot lounge built next to the adjacent 3,000′ KFFA runway. But how well does requiring secret pilot knowledge to get in work in the age of LTE and Google?

The surrounding area reflects a world changed more by the automobile than the airplane. The Wright Brothers had to seek help from the guys manning the local U.S. Life-Saving Service station (merged into Coast Guard in 1915) as the local population was only about 300. Today if they needed big guys to lug a glider up a dune they could wander over to the adjacent Try My Nuts and Duck Donuts. From the top of the dune one can see a wide strip of houses, stores, condos, etc. stretching to the horizon in both directions. U.S. population has grown a little more than 4X since 1903, but the summer population of Kill Devil Hills is more than 100X larger than it was in 1903. Nearly all of these folks arrive by car.

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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez takes an anti-immigration position?

At lunch on Friday, a friend bragged a bit about his daughter, a whip-smart Computer Science graduate working for one of the most prestigious Wall Street banks: “She’s making a ton of money.”

Really, I asked. She won’t need a car in Manhattan so let’s say that she can spend half of her after-tax earnings on rent. Within a 20-minute walk of her office, how big of an apartment would she get? “Not even a one-bedroom,” he replied. The young energetic works-all-the-time college graduate has to share an apartment. So, she’d have an objectively higher standard of living if she were a programmer for the State of Indiana? “Yes.”

Let’s look at what happens when a big rich employer moves into this environment.

“Ocasio-Cortez and progressives score a victory in Amazon fight” (CNN):

Ocasio-Cortez hailed the Washington Post report on Friday as a victory of the citizen over the corporation, when she tweeted a link to the Post article and added: “Can everyday people come together and effectively organize against creeping overreach of one of the world’s biggest corporations? Yes, they can.”

Let’s also consider “Ocasio-Cortez leads immigration rally outside White House” (The Hill):

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) on Tuesday used a pro-immigration rally outside the White House to call for permanent residence for people in the U.S. with temporary protected status (TPS).

“We are a nation that turns peril into promise,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “We are here to make sure that all TPS recipients become permanent members of the United States of America.”

Also “ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ SHEDS TEAR, SAYS ‘WE ARE STANDING ON NATIVE LAND’ AS SHE CALLS TO DEFUND ICE” (NBC):

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Thursday called on Congress to cut funding to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and accused the agency of criminalizing Latinos in the United States, which she called “native land.”

I wonder if everyone’s favorite member of Congress has figured out that the immigration of Amazon into Manhattan is likely to be a net negative for most of her constituents. Plainly, property owners will be better off. There will be more demand for office space, retail space, and apartments.

What about renters? Consider the school teacher, age 32, who has been working for NYC Public Schools since graduating college at age 22 and has earned an online master’s degree. If I’m reading the salary schedule right, this puts the teacher at $87,160 per year. If the teacher has no children, earning $87,160 is above the eligibility limit for public housing.

Why is the teacher better off after Amazon moves in? The teacher’s salary is set by union contract and won’t go up. Amazon was forecast to pay an average of $150,000 per year. This is great news for the teacher’s landlord, who now has 25,000+ new potential renters earning $150,000 per year. Why is it great news for the teacher?

If we consider the teacher a “native” and the Amazon workers “immigrants,” I wonder if this is the same situation as the immigration question on which Ms. Ocasio-Cortez takes the opposite view.

An extra 50 or 100 million immigrants plus children of immigrants is wonderful news for property owners (the government will pay to rent a migrant family an apartment), the health care industry (more customers and the government will pay for nearly all of them!), folks who work in the welfare industry, etc. But for a renter with low skills, the immigrants will drive up the cost of an apartment and drive down the market-clearing wage.

Readers: Is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez being inconsistent here in advocating for migrants to come through the southern border and for Amazon to stay out of Queens? Does the own vs. rent dichotomy explain most of the disagreement in New York City on whether Amazon HQ2 was a positive or a negative?

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Energy and cost efficiency of different forms of transportation

“Lesson From The A380 And California HSR: Smaller Is Better In Transportation” (Forbes), by Brad Templeton, contains a lot of interesting numbers:

In the Department of Energy Transport Energy Data Book you will see some surprising numbers. For example, for transit buses you’ll see that the average American bus uses 4,102 BTUs per passenger-mile, while the average car uses 2,939. (A gallon of gasoline is around 115,000 BTUs.) Yes, US bus ridership is so poor that it would use less energy to move all bus riders in cars, at the national average of 3 people for 2 cars. You don’t even need to fill all the seats, and the cars are just average efficiency. The Toyota Prius is twice as efficient as that average car. People driving around alone in hybrid cars out-green the bus system.

You can compare what you would guess is an efficient electric train, the New York MTA subway. The DoE reports it uses 503 BTUS (of electricity, not heat) per passenger-mile. Even measuring the heat, that’s better than those cars and buses, but about the same as that Prius.

Looking at the MTA again, it spends about $16B to for 13B passenger miles, or $1.23 per passenger mile. Typical car ownership costs in the USA for late model cars is 50-60 cents per vehicle-mile, plus parking. Drivers get subsidies (though they pay gas taxes and other taxes for the roads) but the MTA isn’t paying for its tunnels either.

This is consistent with what I’ve heard from other sources: The idea of building and maintaining rails is obsolete for passenger transportation.

Separately, the article covers the demise of the Airbus A380, which saddens me because I’ve heard that it had the lowest level of cabin noise of any airliner ever produced (the A350 is a close second) and I never got to experience it (there have been some A380 flights in and out of Boston, but they are not common).

Maybe the countries that say they are morally obligated to assist refugees will snap up all of the A380s and send them out daily to pick up 1,000 refugees at a time from the world’s poorest and most troubled regions. If you are sincere about wanting to help people, why demand that they walk 1,000 miles to get that help?

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NYT: Greedy employers love women; woke university professors hate them

“The Secret History of Women in Coding: Computer programming once had much better gender balance than it does today. What went wrong?” (NYT, February 13, 2019) describes a golden age of female nerddom from the 1950s through the mid-80s. Employers would recruit, train, and pay people who identified as women to write software in IBM 704 assembly language. They would even do this for applicants who identified as part of two victim groups (a “young black woman” is cited).

According to the newspaper, once it became conventional for programmers to get Computer Science degrees, the percentage of women choosing coding dropped:

If we want to pinpoint a moment when women began to be forced out of programming, we can look at one year: 1984.

Who was forcing them out, then? University professors and the environments that they set up! Women-hating CS faculty were apparently eager to send approximately half of the potential students, and the funding that would accompany them, into the arms of less sexist departments.

The women described in the article don’t support the narrative of the NYT. One left coding because she wanted to be a lawyer and had a successful four-decade career in the law (see Atlantic article below on how the availability of higher-paid and more prestigious work in, e.g., finance, medicine, law, and politics can draw women away from the last-resort jobs of engineer and computer programmer).

The comments are interesting. A young woman reading these would certainly choose some career other than programming. Women describes decades of misery and sexism in the cubicle plantations where they’ve been stuck (and now they don’t even get cubicles!). So we have the odd phenomenon of the NYT saying that they are passionate about pushing up the number of women in STEM while simultaneously writing articles that any rational young woman would interpret as a huge warning flag regarding a STEM career.

Alternative explanations are not considered by the journalist and editors. For example, the purported golden age of female coding ended just as programming changed character. The job of data scientist today is a lot more like what a “programmer” was doing in the 1970s.

Another alternative is that the golden age coincided with a time of maximum female economic insecurity. No-fault divorce was being rolled out, in which the husband could unilaterally shed the wife in favor of a younger sex partner. But post-divorce financial arrangements were subject to the whims of individual judges due to a lack of guidelines and precedent. Once known-in-advance rules were set up, a lot of married women concluded that they didn’t need to work (see the economic study by Voena cited in “Litigation, Alimony, and Child Support in the U.S. Economy”). Child support guidelines introduced in the 1980s made it more lucrative for a woman to have sex with an already-married dentist or doctor than to go to work as a software engineer (see Massachusetts family law, for example).

Nor does the Times consider why female-run profit-hungry employers don’t seek out women to hire, train, and exploit. Sheryl Sandberg runs Facebook and advertises her passion for the advancement of women. If there is a huge reservoir of female coding talent out there, why wouldn’t Facebook tap into it with an aptitude test and an in-house training program? The cost of training women to the standard of a BSCS is less than what Facebook is currently spending to recruit men. (Remember that most of the four years of a BSCS is spent doing stuff that doesn’t relate to being a software engineer. For one thing, a full two years is spent not being in school at all.) How about Epic Systems and its multi-billionaire founder who identifies as a woman? Why wouldn’t they save a ton of money by recruiting and training an all-female staff to relive the glorious days of the 1960s with their 1960s database technology? (Epic rejects the RDBMS!)

Finally, the Times doesn’t consider the apparent inconsistency between this article and the rest of their journalism. Capitalism is responsible for the evils of racism and sexism. Universities are where enlightenment prevails. Is it that CS professors are the exception to the general rule? And what’s their motivation? Why do they want to see the biology department get the fancy new building to accommodate all of the female students (now a majority on campus)?

Finally, the article is strong on its mischaracterization of what James Damore, the cast-out Google heretic, wrote. (Has anyone at any American newspaper actually read his infamous memo?)

Readers: What was your favorite comment on this piece? I like the ones that say that the waning of female nerddom was due to the high salaries that purportedly began to be paid to programmers (the BLS can’t find this! Programmers today get paid less, on average, than the women described in the article were getting way back when). None of these coastal elites ask why, if it is all about the Benjamins, the percentage of women is growing in the highest-paid fields, such as medicine and finance.

Related:

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Meet in Austin, Texas this week?

Ever since being assured by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez that socialism is essential for well-being, I have planned to visit Texas, where state/local government consumes only 7.6 percent of income (Tax Foundation; compare to New York at 12.7 percent), and enjoy it before the inevitable downward spiral from an undersized government.

It turns out that this is the big week for the investigation into the suffering endured by an under-served population.

I myself will be under-served at the Fairmont (no free Internet!).

Who would like to meet in Austin, perhaps coffee at the Fairmont, this week? I should be available Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday mornings. I can also get together in the evening. Email to philg@mit.edu if interested.

Who has brilliant ideas for activities, cultural events, and sightseeing?

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The Line Becomes a River: Illegal immigrants want to work

The Line Becomes a River is by a guy who worked as a Border Patrol agent between 2008 and 2012. It is a worthwhile book if you want to understand the texture of land-based illegal immigration and border control (only a subset of illegal immigration; a lot of our uninvited permanent guests showed up in an airplane on a visa of some sort and then either asked for asylum or simply stayed).

The book repeatedly makes the point that illegal immigrants are good people and want to work:

At the station I processed the man for deportation. After I had taken his fingerprints he asked me if there was any work for him at the station. You don’t understand, I said, you’ve just got to wait here until the bus comes. They’ll take you to headquarters and then on to the border. You’ll be back in Mexico very soon. I understand, he assured me, I just want to know if there is something I can do while I wait, something to help. I can take out the trash or clean out the cells. I want to show you that I’m here to work, that I’m not a bad person. I’m not here to bring in drugs, I’m not here to do anything illegal. I want to work. I looked at him. I know that, I said.

My mother sighed and looked up at the ceiling. There are ways to learn these things that don’t put you at risk, she said, ways that let you help people instead of pitting you against them. But that’s just it, I offered—I can still help people. I speak both languages, I know both cultures. I’ve lived in Mexico and traveled all across the country. I’ve seen towns and villages that were emptied out by people going north for work. Good people will always be crossing the border, and whether I’m in the Border Patrol or not, agents will be out there arresting them. At least if I’m the one apprehending them, I can offer them some small comfort by speaking with them in their own language, by talking to them with knowledge of their home.

it I saw two figures lying on a blanket that had been spread out between the pews and the altar. As I approached, a man looked up at me and squinted, holding out his hand to block the light. We were resting a little, he said. It’s just that we are lost, muy desanimados. A woman huddled close to him, hiding her face. The man propped himself up on one elbow and told me that they had crossed four days ago, that their guide had left them behind on the first night when they’d failed to keep pace with the group. They were lost for days, he said, with nothing to drink but the filthy water from cattle tanks. Puede ser muy fea la frontera, I told him. The man shook his head. Pues sí, he replied, pero es aún más feo donde nosotros vivimos. The man told me that they came from Morelos. My wife and I, we’re just coming to find work, he said. He rubbed his eyes in silence. I have fresh water for you, I told them. At the station there’s juice and crackers. The man looked at me and smiled weakly, then asked for a minute to gather their belongings. He stuffed some things into a backpack, then helped his wife to her feet. Her face was streaked with dried tears, and when she turned toward me I saw that she was pregnant.

The author describes encounters with drug smugglers and other criminals, but stresses that the majority of illegal immigrants are looking for work that would be legal if they were documented U.S. residents or citizens.

So the book supports the open borders abolish-ICE point of view? Yes, but it also inadvertently supports the “build the wall” point of view! The immigrants described, no matter how long they’ve lived in the U.S., never graduate from Welfare. They work at minimum wage and have 2-6 children. Thus they’re entitled to subsidized public housing, food stamps, Obamaphones, and either Medicaid or subsidized Obamacare health insurance policies. So they are simultaneously workers cheered by advocates of expanded immigration and lifetime welfare recipients decried by opponents. Example:

Agents found Martin Ubalde de la Vega and his three companions on the bombing range more than fifty miles north of the border. The four men had been in the desert for six days and had wandered in the July heat for over forty-eight hours without food or water.  … I had been charged with watching over de la Vega until his condition was stable, at which point I would transport him to the station to be processed for deportation. I settled in a chair next to him, and after several minutes of silence, I asked him to tell me about himself. He answered timidly, as if unsure of what to say or even how to speak. He apologized for his Spanish, explaining that he knew only what they had taught him in school. He came from the jungles of Guerrero, he told me, and in his village they spoke Mixtec and farmed the green earth. He was the father of seven children, he said, five girls and two boys. His eldest daughter lived in California and he had crossed the border with plans to go there, to live with her and find work. We spent the following hours watching telenovelas and occasionally he would turn to ask me about the women in America, wondering if they were like the ones on TV.

So this guy will be earning a middle class wage as soon as American employers need a lot of Mixtec speakers. The drug dealers, at least, have credible plans to make money:

We caught our first dope load only two days after arriving at the station. We were east of the port of entry when a sensor hit, just three miles away. … Two hundred fifty pounds of dope—not bad for your second day in the field. I asked Cole if we should follow the foot sign up into the pass, if we should try to track down the backpackers. Hell no, he said, you don’t want to bring in any bodies with your dope if you can help it. Suspects mean you have a smuggling case on your hands, and that’s a hell of a lot of paperwork—we’d have to stay and work a double shift just to write it up. Besides, he said, the prosecutors won’t take it anyway. Courts here are flooded with cases like this.

On the ride back to the station, the kid regained some composure. He told me he was eighteen, that he had planned to go to Oregon to sell heroin, un puño a la vez.

The book leaves some questions unanswered, e.g., why didn’t all of the people the author catches immediately claim asylum and thus delay their deportation for a few years? Why didn’t everyone find a young companion (who at least can credibly claim to be under 18) with whom to cross the border and then stay together after being caught under the Obama Administration’s policy of releasing parents if they had been snagged with a child?

As a taxpayer, I was horrified to read about the money being spent. The cost of border patrol agents, including pension and benefits, is staggering. Helicopters are flying constantly, notably for medical evacuation of dehydrated migrants found by these highly paid border patrol agents. These aren’t $350/hour Robinsons, but $1,500/hour Eurocopters (which become $4,000/hour Eurocopters when federally operated; 40,000 aircraft hours per year in 2014!). I wonder if we could simply pay the Mexicans to patrol the border. If we offered them $10 billion per year and then subtracted the cost of lifetime welfare (about $2 million?) for every unauthorized person who slipped through, I have to believe that they would be a lot more efficient and effective. It would also cut down on gun fights between U.S. agents and bad guys, which have killed 123 officers since 1904. The author of the book makes the job sound incredibly dangerous and spends quite a few pages recounting his vivid dreams. The Marines on Iwo Jima faced only token resistance by comparison. The author never explains why Border Patrol agents are able to purchase life insurance at a lower cost than other federal employees from an independent nonprofit association. Either the underwriters are pinheads or carrying a gun for the Border Patrol is actually less hazardous than sitting at a desk in a D.C. bureaucracy.

Given that immigration policy will determine the future of the U.S., I recommend reading the book. I don’t think it will change anyone’s mind, though. Folks who support more immigration will be cheered by the stories of all of the big-hearted hard-working migrants who come to the U.S. to work. Folks who are against more immigration won’t be surprised to learn that the best-case scenario painted by the author is someone who earns minimum wage, is entitled to nearly every variety of U.S. welfare, and doesn’t commit any crimes.

More: read The Line Becomes a River

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California ran out of other people’s money to build its high-speed rail line?

“California Scraps Plan to Build High-Speed Railroad Between Los Angeles and San Francisco” (TIME):

California Governor Gavin Newsom is abandoning plans to build a high-speed railroad between Los Angeles and San Francisco, saying the ambitious project that was approved by voters and championed by his predecessor is too costly.

Instead, the state will finish roughly 120 miles of track already under construction in the Central Valley, a mostly rural agricultural region that runs down the spine of the state, Newsom said.

California was one of the first U.S. states to champion a government-owned high-speed rail system like those that are ubiquitous in parts of Europe and Asia. Former Governor Jerry Brown defended the project as part of the state’s nation-leading effort against climate change, an issue that Newsom has made a centerpiece of his administration.

The Central Valley segment was expected to cost $10.6 billion, according to the latest business plan. [That’s about $66 million per mile in what would seem like some of the world’s simplest terrain.]

Newsom said workers will continue building a stretch of the line between Merced and Bakersfield.

What could have changed? The project has grown a bit in price, but not dramatically more than anything else government does. I wonder if the difference is the new tax law. With direct federal cash plus California state taxes being deductible, taxpayers in Indiana, Ohio, New York, et al. were previously going to pay for 75 percent of this fun project? Now that non-Californians would be stuck with only 50 percent of the bill, it isn’t fun to do anymore? So it would be fair to say that California ran out of other people’s money?

[Regarding the new mini-line: Google Maps shows that it is practical to drive between Merced and Bakersfield in roughly 2.5 hours. Why spend $10.6 billion on a short train line in a thinly populated area and then $1 billion/year (?) to run it? The answer can’t be energy efficiency, I don’t think, because even when tracks already exist an ordinary inter-city bus uses less energy per passenger than today’s trains. If Californians wanted to save energy, wouldn’t they just run more buses on their existing roads?]

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