[News] Migrant must go, and $49,000 stays, U.S. says

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Wed Oct 10 19:14:34 EDT 2007


Posted on Wed, Oct. 10, 2007
http://www.miamiherald.com/top_stories/story/266193.html


Migrant must go, and $49,000 stays, U.S. says

BY ANA MENENDEZ
After nine years of washing dishes, Pedro Zapeta managed to save 
$62,000. Then he lost most of it overnight. Not to addiction or 
street thugs. To the U.S. government.

Customs agents confiscated $59,000 of Zapeta's money when he tried to 
board a plane home to Guatemala (he had another $3,000 in his 
pockets) in 2005. It's not illegal to take that much money out of the 
country. But it's illegal not to report it on a special form. Zapeta 
didn't know that. He's not a frequent flyer.

Earlier this year, U.S. District Judge James Cohn levied a heavy 
civil penalty for Zapeta's mistake: $49,000. Zapeta was graciously 
allowed to keep the remainder of his earnings. Then he was kicked 
out. He has until January to leave the country.

Exhausted and bewildered, Zapeta wants to go -- but not without his 
money, which everyone agrees he acquired through honest labor.

''You can imagine the great effort it took me to earn that money and 
when they took it, it caused me a great sadness,'' Zapeta told me in 
Spanish. ``But I know there is a God who is great and good, and I 
know he is looking down and will help me.''

Zapeta's story, initially reported by the Palm Beach Post, exploded 
after CNN recently ran a segment on him. By this week, dozens of 
bloggers were weighing in from Omaha to Denmark.

Reaction ranged from the sentimental to the outright vicious. That's 
because a simple story of outrage is muddied by the circumstances of 
Zapeta's arrival in the United States: In 1996, Zapeta admits, he 
entered the country illegally through the Texas frontier. Later, he 
bought a fake Social Security number for $25.

HARD WORKER

He spent the next decade working -- sometimes 13 hours a day -- 
scrubbing dishes and pots in Stuart restaurants. He never filed an 
income tax return, but some of his pay stubs show that his employers 
took taxes from his wages, says his attorney, Robert Gershman. Zapeta 
rode his bike to work and lived quietly. He labored hard at tedious 
work and earned his pay.

None of that satisfies the few embittered nativists who (lacking 
imagination as well as heart) have copied the same screed from site 
to site: ``Deport Pedro Zapeta Sans $59,000.''

Sure. And while we're at it, let's round up speeders and impound their cars.

Fortunately, the hate-mongers are outclassed by those who know the 
punishment is way out of proportion to the crime. One blogger quoted 
scripture: ''The wages you withheld from the worker who mowed your 
fields cry out, and the cries of the worker reach the ears of the 
Lord of hosts.'' Another offered to trade Guatemala one for one: 
''Lou Dobbs for Pedro Zapeta. We'd be getting the better end of the 
deal.'' An Oregan man wrote his representatives on Zapeta's behalf: 
``So deduct the taxes, give the man his money and deport him, 
although we could use more people like him.''

Since his story became public, people have donated $10,000, which his 
attorney is keeping in trust.

Part of the outpouring is due to Zapeta's sad story. His break across 
the frontier was motivated by the kind of poverty that most Americans 
can't understand. His hard life here was sustained by the hope of one 
day returning to Guatemala to build a home for his mother and four 
sisters. For 11 years, he carted his money around in a bag, afraid to 
wire any of it. ''I thought I'd take it with me all at once,'' he 
told me. ``My only regret is that I've stained my name here.''

THE `CRIME'

The ''crime'' he's being punished for is not illegal immigration. 
It's a bureaucratic technicality meant to catch drug dealers and 
smugglers, of which he is neither. We can disagree all we want on 
immigration policy; it takes an especially hateful nature to argue 
that a man is not entitled to his wages.

But there's another appeal to Zapeta's story. At a time when most 
Americans are deep in the red and the national debt rises by more 
than $1 billion a day, Pedro Zapeta may be the last man on earth who 
still embodies the great American ideal of thrift and hard work.

He never owned a car, rode his bike everywhere and denied himself 
every luxury beyond rent and electricity. If Zapeta were wise to the 
ways of popular culture, he'd pitch a self-help book: How to Think 
and Grow Rich on Minimum Wage.

Zapeta doesn't care about any of that. He just wants to get home to 
his family. That's understandable. But I think the authorities should 
reconsider.

Anyone who can amass $62,000 in nine years should be forced to stay 
here and teach the rest of us how to do it.





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