THE ILLEGALS by Grace Halsell


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Reflecting the growing interest in the subject, journalist Grace Halsell presents a detailed, if one-sided, account of illegal aliens from Mexico, involved in ""a grim game of life, death, and desperation."" With the Mexican economy creating only 150,000 new jobs each year where 400,000 are needed, Mexicans struggle to leave. Some men swim the Rio Grande, others pay an average of $500 to be smuggled in the back of a sealed van; women cross the river on the shoulders of Mexican men, soon to join the one million illegals working here as domestics. The details are graphic and the statistics powerful, though the case would be stronger if they were documented. Unfortunately, too, Halsell's approach is heavy-handed. She invokes frequent images of Vietnam in describing our ""war"" against illegals, and she is unsympathetic to authorities (one detention camp officer urges that the United States ""take over"" the countries to the south). Halsell claims that pressure to further restrict immigration--we already spend $250 million yearly to deal with illegals--is based on three erroneous assumptions: illegals want to settle here permanently; they require more social services than their labor is worth; they displace many Americans. She notes that AFL-CIO president George Meany wants criminal penalties for employers knowingly hiring illegals, in order ""to open up more jobs to United States citizens,"" while a Los Angeles legal aid office claims that the menial jobs done by illegals would go unfilled without them. This requires further discussion, as does Halsell's long-range solution--providing ""more work and better living conditions in the villages of Mexico."" However, despite its flaws--which include the absence of a bibliography--this is a worthwhile study, as much for the questions raised as for the information provided.

Pub Date: July 4th, 1978
Publisher: Stein & Day