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They’re still building roads out on Otay Mesa, about three miles north of the international border. The hot tar takes longer to set in the incredible heat. The smell hangs thick over the brown hillsides by the Corrections Corporation of America prison.

All around the facility, multiple coils of barbed wire loop and line the fences.

Supervised detainees in blue outfits — with “DETAINEE” printed on the back — clean the windows in the lobby.

The look of distrust on the faces of the workers at the prison is palpable. They watch you as if they’re ready for you to attack them. Tell a joke to cut the tension and no one laughs.

Even the employees are frisked on their way in.

The long walk to the little glass room to meet Kenneth Hathaway winds through a windowless, empty hallway. Finally, after a quarter mile up steps, around corners, and through a series of locked doors, a tall 18-year-old kid in a green “INMATE” outfit is sitting there with his hands interlocked in front of him. He has a goofy, aw-shucks look on his face. It’s an expression that says he knows he’s supposed to be embarrassed about his predicament — he is in prison, after all — but it also seems to say that he knows he’s better than a common criminal.

Hathaway’s hair is brushed forward so that it all points at his face. It accentuates his pointy features: a birdlike nose and sharp eyes, even. He’s tall, about six feet two, and there’s a space between his two front teeth.

Hathaway has served three months of his sentence. He was caught red-handed driving a vanload of aliens on I-8 near Campo. “It sucks being in prison,” he says, rather goofily.

Hathaway got lucky. Six months instead of the recommended 18. He also has to go back to Alaska to live for three years, supervised by his mother while he finishes high school and goes to vocational school to become a mechanic.

It’s Hathaway’s first time locked up, although he was on probation more than once as a juvenile.

How did Hathaway get involved in human smuggling?

“I moved in with my buddy from school,” he says, referring to his hometown of Reedsport, Oregon. “And this guy’s dad was, like, ‘Do you want to make a bunch of money?’ And I was, like, ‘Yeah, sure.’ Because I was pretty much just bumming off them. So they said we’d go down to San Diego and make a bunch of money.”

Hathaway was working on a car, drinking a beer, when his buddy’s dad approached him with the idea. “He was, like, ‘There’s no risk involved,’ ” Hathaway says, with a look of ironic disbelief on his face that shows he knew there was a risk. “And they were making it sound all good. Like, ‘We’re going to take care of you. You’re going to make so much money. When you come back, you’re going to be set.’ Because that was the plan. Just go down there and make some money, and then come back to Oregon and be all right for a while. But instead, I lost everything. I lost my car. I lost my clothes. I lost my jewelry. I lost my money. I lost my tools. Man.”

Hathaway’s friend and his father are Hispanic, although Hathaway himself is white.

“So we drove down,” Hathaway says. “It was me and my cousin’s friend and my buddy and his dad. And we went to Mexico. And we went to their family’s house in TJ. And their family was, like, the ones who take the people across the border. They had a whole business operation going on down there, with, like, nice cars, 2007 Escalades and Lincoln Town Cars, with all these compartments built into them. And they had all these people working for them, doing the same thing.”

Hathaway was hired as a driver. “They had a bunch of drivers,” he says. “But I didn’t want to take anybody across the border because I knew that was dangerous. So instead, my job was to go back up in this van and then pick these people up who already came across, and then I was going to drive them up to San Diego so another guy could take them to Los Angeles.”

The deal was that Hathaway would drive first and get paid later. He was supposed to earn $400 per person that he carried.

“My friend was in one car, and I was in the van,” Hathaway says, “and the plan was for me to follow him and then stop when he told me.” The two were in constant contact on cell phones.

Hathaway has a knowing look in his eyes, and the way he uses his hands when he talks suggests a kind of conversational intelligence.

“But I stopped,” he says, “and all these people started jumping into the van. I was supposed to pick up 6 guys, but 13 got in. They couldn’t even sit down. They were all on top of each other. And I was, like, ‘Dude, I can’t do this.’ I was stressing.”

After Hathaway picked up his cargo and started driving, he was immediately followed by Border Patrol agents in a marked SUV.

“I saw the Border Patrol right away,” Hathaway says. “And I was, like, ‘Fuck!’ ”

Border Patrol followed Hathaway for 10 or 15 miles. They’d pull up alongside him and then pull in behind. Hathaway’s friend in the other car tried once or twice to get in front of the Border Patrol car and slow down, but then he gave up and drove away, leaving Hathaway to his fate.

“I’ve never heard from my friend since,” Hathaway says, shaking his head.

Hathaway’s parents split up when he was 4. His mother moved to Alaska with what Hathaway calls “some derelict.” He grew up in Alaska until he was 16, when he moved down to Oregon to live with his father. He got kicked out of his father’s house when he was 17.

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Ponzi Oct. 8, 2008 @ 7:28 p.m.

All that work to try to get up here and do manual labor.

When we have high-tech companies import 100,000 people every year to take Americans jobs using H1-B Visas. If only those Mexicans had been born in India or China instead, they could just fly over in the comfort of a jet and take a nice cushy job from an American.

This is a nice side-show, but the real middle class jobs are being lost to the cheap H1-B labor we bring over here and the jobs we export and outsource.

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David Dodd Oct. 10, 2008 @ 10:34 a.m.

"But what happens is, when they work for, like, 24 months in a maquiladora, then they get fired because if they keep them longer than that, then they have to pay them benefits, and they don’t want to do that. So they let them go. It’s not like they have rights or anything."

This is, essentially, a very incorrect statement. Worker's rights are, unlike some laws in Mexico, enforced very fiercely when it comes to firings and lay-offs. And generally the maquiladoras constantly struggle against employee turnover, since the majority of their employees in assembly are under-educated and from farther down south and seek to return to where they came from every so often.

Mr. Levine obviously would love for everyone to believe that the polleros are simply filling this tremendous need for poor Mexicans to survive, but this is more the exception than the rule. Where twenty years ago crossing the border without documentation was very easy, and now it is almost impossible without help, the polleros are more often than not convincing poor and under-educated Mexicans that they can cross them and get them high-paying jobs (relative to Mexico) and that they can work off what they owe.

It is the greed of the pollero that perpetuates the illegal crossings more than the economic desperation of the pollos.

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a2zresource Oct. 12, 2008 @ 1:27 p.m.

"It is the greed of the pollero that perpetuates the illegal crossings more than the economic desperation of the pollos."

I'd believe that if the official minimum wage in the highest-paying urban areas like Mexico City were anywhere near $5 an hour.

Instead, it's more like $5 a day... and it's actually lower in the rural Mexican farming villages where most of the men crossing not at legal points of entry are coming from.

Compare that to the $80-a-day City-mandated wage here in San Diego on any job that involves a contract with the City... closer to $100 a day without health benefits (http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/metro/20050413-9999-7m13wage.html ... "Supporters, including labor unions and faith-based organizations, say the raise would help workers cope with the high cost of living in San Diego while benefiting businesses by reducing employee absenteeism and attrition. Passage of the law, said Bishop George McKinney of St. Stephen's Cathedral Church of God in Christ, would offer low-wage workers 'the bread of life that they may better support themselves and their families.' ")

I notice that since 2005, the standard asking wage in front of Home Depot for people without papers starts at $10 an hour.

I wonder: How many US citizens not already in jail or prison would be willing to work for $5 a day?

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David Dodd Oct. 13, 2008 @ 10:35 a.m.

"I wonder: How many US citizens not already in jail or prison would be willing to work for $5 a day?"

The answer, of course, is none. But you are comparing apples with oranges when you compare the economy of Mexico with that of the United States of America. The standard of living is obviously quite different here, and in fact, Tijuana's standards are also quite different than in rural villages in the southern parts of Mexico.

If minimum wage in the U.S. was, say, fifteen dollars per hour, then the cost of that upgrade would have to be reflected in price increases for everything - your average rent in San Diego would rise from $1,200.00 per month to perhaps $1,800.00 per month or more. Costs for food, clothing, and practically everything would have to rise because employers would have to pass that cost on in order to maintain an acceptable profit.

If the minimum wage in Mexico rises to your five dollars per hour, it would be a disaster. Most Mexicans do not purchase homes, they purchase land and then build their own homes, there usually isn't a large mortgage to pay off. Rent is very affordable here, although the standards aren't nearly what they are in the U.S. The Mexican government subsidizes several food staples so that even the poorest Mexican can afford to eat. Health care is also nationalized for the working class. The average high school dropout probably isn't going to get rich here working in the factories, but they manage to live on what they make.

Mexico wouldn't work if it ran like the U.S. does, any less than the U.S. would work if it ran like Mexico does. Yet, many Americans are very keen on insisting that Mexico should adopt economic strategies similar to those of the U.S. I would counter that the U.S. is just as much at fault for any problems with illegal immigration because the notion of an inflated minimum wage is counter-productive to a capitalist economy where the supply of labor against the demand for it should control wages.

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a2zresource Oct. 13, 2008 @ 12:17 p.m.

"The standard of living is obviously quite different here, and in fact, Tijuana's standards are also quite different than in rural villages in the southern parts of Mexico. ... If the minimum wage in Mexico rises to your five dollars per hour, it would be a disaster. ... I would counter that the U.S. is just as much at fault for any problems with illegal immigration because the notion of an inflated minimum wage is counter-productive to a capitalist economy where the supply of labor against the demand for it should control wages."

Well, there's our argument against globalization: it would be a disaster because if wages around the world were anywhere near ours, either our standards of living would have to fall due to rising competitive consumption around the globe or we would actually have to invest in real productivity to cover items not arriving on our shores, not derivative paper assets.

Of course, most international efforts like this weekend's are about saving existing financial arrangements, not about increasing real productivity in Amerca.

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