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An Immigration Morality Tale

“The 17-year-old girl, whose name was not released”

A number of questions arise. How do we know the girl is “17”? As the story goes on to show, she has lied about not giving birth, and lied about her child being dead upon birth. Why should we assume that she was truthful about her age, especially given the common knowledge that being 17 and not 18 offers some legal advantage? Or does she have an ID, and if so, how exactly would one who arrived in Madera three days earlier, without either Spanish or English, have one that is recognized as authentic and can be so verified?

It has long been American journalist practice, with support from the legislature and courts, that the privacy of those under 18 charged with most crimes trumps disclosure of their identity. I’m not sure that is any longer wise.

One, today’s 17 year old is far more mature and our society far more conditioned to that maturity than was true decades ago. Second, the well-meaning practice of shielding juveniles has often had the unintended effect of shielding those arrested from the full focus of their peers. In ancient times, we called this a “shame” culture (yes, it can be excessive, as we know from Hesiod to Nathaniel Hawthorne) in contrast with our present “guilt” culture. But the point of identification was not so much gratuitously to shame or to deter a suspect, by apprising all citizens that committing felonies is serious business, and that being of age to commit violence de facto translates into being of age to be identified as such.

Surely we should consider lowering the age of disclosure to 16, given the epidemic of violence committed by those between 16 and 18. At some point allegations that someone took a defenseless newborn and proceed to have her/him “wrapped in plastic and stuffed in a bathroom cabinet” should outweigh the thought that a 17 year old is not an adult. (See postscript below.)

“The girl denied giving birth …”

Bringing an unwanted child into the world, perhaps alone, is, of course, a tragic circumstance for any mother, but often even more tragic -- and dangerous -- for the newborn. Unfortunately this may not have been the first untruth the suspect offered -- given that she likely entered the United States under untruthful circumstances. Yet it surely was the most consequential, given that her mendacity made the critical discovery of the newborn infant (e.g., "it took doctors and deputies hours to learn where she lived”) all that more difficult. We are told only that the baby was not stillborn, but allegedly murdered after birth; whether the baby was still alive when the suspect visited the emergency room, and delayed investigating officials, we were not told and probably will never know.

“She speaks Mixteco Bajo, a dialect spoken in Oaxaca, Mexico”

I think anyone who has resided for long in hinterlands of the Central Valley understands this disconnect. There are literally tens of thousands of Mexican nationals without legal residence in California who either do not speak Spanish or speak it poorly, and sadly do not read it at all. It was about twenty years ago when I noted occasionally that at the local bank, a few customers made marks in lieu of signatures, or at local grocery stores the Spanish-speaking check-out personnel were not able to understand their customers.

Rural motorists who run out of gas, suffer car trouble, get lost, want to throw out furniture and garbage, drive intoxicated and run off the road into nearby vineyards (often incurring thousands of uncompensated dollars in damages to vines), want a place to pull over and sleep, are casing the place, or are stealing something, etc., are too numerous to count. But I would say the more common benign instances as well as the rarer criminal ones occur on average at least once every two months at my place. After 35 years, I can offer a fair, if not low-ball, estimate of well over 200 such instances of having complete strangers showing up, almost always at night. I would also guess that about 40 of these visitors/intruders/criminals over the last 35 years did not speak English or Spanish, but an indigenous language of Mexico, and could not read either.