As I am writing this, my in-laws are traveling down U.S. Interstate 85 from South Carolina en route to LaGrange to spend the weekend with us. They’re traveling the great distance in the rain all because they want to see my life partner, Charlotte, perform in a civic chorale this evening. Charlotte doesn’t even have a solo in the performance but six family members will make the trek down here to show Charlotte their unconditional support.
As my in-laws travel down the interstate in their cars, I am mindful that there are socially-constructed “outlaws” traveling down the same interstate. Perhaps traveling right alongside my in-laws right now is an outlaw “unlicenseable” driver. Where is the unlicensed driver going? To a concert? Not likely. To visit a family member? Possibly. To work? Possibly. To jail? Sadly, always a possibility.
Are we the land of the free or the home of the privileged?
We take our freedom of mobility for granted. Later this month I will be traveling to Guatemala and all I need is some money for transportation and money for a passport and Guatemala opens its doors wide open for me. But the reverse migration is also dependent upon money; lots of money. And in a country where the annual per capita income is about $3,300, money ain’t easy to come by. Freed of mobility denied.
We take our freedom of mobility for granted. It is quite common for me to meet immigrant men in jail or at court who were only traveling along the I-85 from one state to another to go to work or to be reunited with family. But their unlicenseable status renders them outlaws.
We take our freedom of mobility for granted. One of my closest friends, William*, is an unauthorized immigrant from Mexico. He’s been living and working in LaGrange for about nine years. He paints our homes, he volunteers numerous hours towards the betterment of our entire community, he pays his income taxes every April (not even all our state legislators do that), plus he pays the “immigrant tax” – the fine for being an unlicenseable driver.
Over the past five years William’s been ticketed for driving without a license four times. One time he was driving his family to church, one time he was taking his wife to the doctor, and twice he was driving to work. Three times he was stopped in a roadblock and once he was stopped for not wearing a seatbelt. According to a new law, SB 350, which went into effect July 1, 2008, the next time William is ticketed for being an unlicenseable driver he may be charged with a felony and sentenced to up to one year in jail.
But William continues to drive. With great fear he drives. Perhaps this “outlaw” driver is driving alongside my in-law driver.
But this form of the denial of freedom of mobility is nothing compared to its more evil apparition – the denial to freely move between nations, the denial of a human right as defined by the international declaration of human rights.
As the border becomes more “secure,” that unintended consequence is that immigrants like William are less likely to return to their homeland, fearing the perilous, expensive return. So when William’s mother died, this husband and father of two had to make a decision that I, a privileged person with the freedom of mobility, will never have to make. William was not able to comfort his father, attend his mother’s funeral or have complete closure from such an immense loss. William is the sole breadwinner in his family, his wife has a chronic illness that renders her unable to do meaningful work for pay and his children are excelling in public schools and he did not want to withdraw them for an indeterminate period of time.
If he were to return, who would pay the family’s bills? If they all returned, how would his wife continue her life-sustaining medical treatments? Should his mother’s death be the dark catalyst for a forced deportation of this family which also includes an American-born child?
In-laws and outlaws. Are we the land of the free or the home of the privileged?