Opinion » Note

Note: Busting Immigration Myths


In 2006 I wrote a story about two undocumented workers here in Boise.

One was 19 years old at the time. He was a high school senior, worked in a local restaurant and had come to the United States to join his mother, who'd left him alone and homeless in Mexico at the age of 14. At 16, he'd crossed the border with a coyote, traveled through California in the back of a refrigerated semi-truck and eventually made his way to Idaho.

The other was in his 40s, married with children and also worked in a local restaurant. In Mexico, he and his wife had successful careers, she as a secretary, he as a university teacher and accountant. When he lost his job, he and his wife lived off their savings and then their credit cards. Eventually he came to Idaho to work in order to support his family in Mexico, pay off their debt and save enough to live on back in Mexico. His wife and kids joined him for a short time in Idaho, but like him, they missed home and eventually returned. Unlike the 19-year-old I spoke with, the former teacher was in the United States legally and flew home regularly to visit his family. However, he was working illegally in Boise. When I spoke with both men about their work here, they each pointed out that they pay into Social Security and they pay state and federal taxes with each paycheck. Neither would ever collect on the Social Security they'd paid into the system. I doubt either filed taxes and collected returns due them.

This week's News feature on immigration legislation is going to ruffle some feathers. In fact, I fully expect that in this space next week, I'll have to address some of the comments the story will garner. And I suspect the one part of George Prentice's story that will draw the most fire will surround taxes and Social Security.

I've briefly revisited the stories of those two men from 2006 because I remember their tears. I remember the younger man's optimism and the elder man's resignation. I remember their frustration at the language barrier. Neither wanted to be the face of such a charged issue--each merely wanted a future beyond the shadowy existence they led at the time. I'm going into this week's edition hoping for the best and expecting the worst on Prentice's story. But I wouldn't mind one bit being proved wrong.