I have been watching the CNN series, American Dynasties about the Kennedys (it’s great). The last episode was about the civil rights struggle and how the Kennedys deployed the National Guard to Alabama to make way for the first Black students to enroll in the University of Alabama. Ironic, considering how the National Guard is being used by our current President. It also reminded me of a very cool story. About 12 years ago, my friend Gustavo Paredes was having dinner at my home in San Diego. Later that evening we were in the family room chatting when he noticed a book on our bookshelf titled “The Kennedy White House”. I had purchased the book while in Washington D.C. for an event where Ted Kennedy was the keynote speaker and I wanted something for Senator Kennedy to sign. Gustavo asked to see the book and began thumbing through the pages. He handed it back to me and instructed me to read a passage on page 209. The passage was situated next to some photos of the Kennedys casually enjoying Christmas in the White House. The passage read: “Jackie watches the Christmas pageant she directed with John as Shepherd, Caroline as the Blessed Mother and Gustavo Paredes as a Wise Man”. It took me a while to get my head around what I had just read. I looked again at the photo in the book, and there was Jackie, John Jr., Caroline and this brown kid. Finally, I asked Gustavo “What are you telling me?” And he said, “That’s me!” Still confused I said, “What the hell do you mean…that’s you?” He laughed and said, “My mother worked as an assistant to Jackie Kennedy and I spent three years as a kid living in the White House”. He went on to tell me that he remained good friends with the Kennedy family, particularly John F. Kennedy Jr. until his death in 1999. Turns out Gustavo’s mother Providencia Paredes, known by her friends as “Provi” became Jackie’s private attendant when the Kennedys lived in Georgetown during the time when John Kennedy was a U.S. Senator. Provi assisted Jackie with her extensive wardrobe and personal accessories. When Kennedy became President, Providencia Paredes, who was originally from the Dominican Republic, moved into the White House and became the only Hispanic in the Kennedy’s inner circle. Over the years, she accompanied the Kennedys on trips to Latin America and other parts of the world. After President Kennedy was assassinated, Ms. Paredes worked for Bobby Kennedy until he was also killed by an assassin’s bullet in 1968. Gustavo’s extraordinary mom passed away in 2015 at the age of 90. Gustavo Paredes who still lives in Washington D.C., is a Hispanic market consultant for several large corporations and is one of the nicest people I have ever known. He is one of only a small handful of living former residents of the Kennedy White House.
If we really wanted to stop illegal immigration, it could be done quite easily.
It makes me sick when people demonize undocumented immigrants. It makes my blood boil and I swear I want to hit somebody. But that doesn’t mean I support illegal immigration, because I don’t. Undocumented immigrants are exploited financially, emotionally and sometimes physically. So why do people come to this country illegally? They come because they are desperate – in fact, more desperate than any of us have ever experienced in our lives. They come to provide for their families and they come because there are employers in this country who will hire them. If there were no jobs, people would not risk life and limb to come here – makes sense, right? If we were serious about ending all forms of illegal immigration, we would make the penalties for employers of undocumented immigrants so severe nobody would even consider it. It is already illegal to hire undocumented immigrants, but the penalties are not harsh enough to dissuade many employers from breaking the law. Companies that employ undocumented immigrants do so because they want cheap labor and to possibly avoid minimum wage and other employer obligations. For some, the money they save makes the chance of getting caught worth the risk. However, the employers are the real criminals. Consider this – during the Great Recession of 2008, illegal immigration from Mexico dropped to almost zero. There are still more people returning to Mexico than are coming from Mexico to the U.S. Immigrants come to where there are jobs for them, they don’t come when those jobs dry up. If we focused on employers rather than immigrants, illegal immigration would all but disappear. Now here is the thrust – when immigrant labor becomes scarce, most Americans will finally realize how much we need it, and will get motivated to finally create laws that will get those much needed workers LEGALLY into the country. The wall and the National Guard are nothing more than political theater and red meat to immigrant haters. Illegal immigration is not good for anyone, but building a wall and punishing immigrants is stupid and ineffective. For those of us who want sustainable solutions, if we focus more of our efforts on employers, comprehensive immigration reform may come quicker than we think.