My contribution to the immigration debate, which is nowadays as much a national security issue as a labor issue, is a personal one.
I met “Pepe,” a Colombian exchange student at my high school, around 1984. We and other friends had many good times together before the sad goodbyes at the airport, when Pepe went home.
It was 15 years later when I heard Pepe was returning to the US. His young wife had died of cancer and he couldn’t deal with Colombia anymore. Partly because it was full of memories of his wife, and partly because of the volatile political climate.
In 2000 Pepe came to town, and it was if no time had passed. We both looked different, but resumed our friendship without pause. (He credits me for introducing him to U2 way back when, his favorite band until this day.)
We started hanging out, and as we were both seeking female company (many of our friends had gotten married since Pepe left), hit the town together on many evenings.
Women loved Pepe’s Latin good looks. He got whistled at from across the street. One woman, who was walking a few steps behind her boyfriend, winked at Pepe as she passed; her boyfriend had no idea. And once one walked up to Pepe and gave him her phone number at the start of their conversation.
It wasn’t all fun and games with Pepe, though. We of course talked about his wife. He also told me of the guerillas who kidnap and kill people every day in Colombia. He reserved his rare curse words for them.
Pepe has since moved to another state, where he got a job and got married.
Earlier this year the INS “visited” Pepe early one morning, when his wife was off visiting her sick father, and hauled him away.
Pepe was in a detention center for many weeks – something so surreal to me I cannot picture – and was allowed only weekly visits from his wife.
There had been some miscommunication over Pepe's immigration paperwork, and a judge didn’t believe his marriage was legitimate, so Pepe was deported back to Colombia.
A few years ago Pepe told me he was concerned that as a member of the Colombian media (a radio personality, before he came left in 2000) he was a target for the guerillas, who often go after the media.
Pepe’s no terrorist, but we’ve sent him back to live among them.