A Found Wallet on April 15th Opens a Pandora Box

By Donathan Salkaln:                                        

On the very afternoon that two sons of Russian immigrants detonated bombs of mass hate in Boston, I had the uncomfortable predicament of finding a wallet on the Long Island Railroad. I was heading back to NYC after helping my mother with endless Sandy repairs. I remember it was the same day, because across the aisle, the young Latino who left his wallet (I’ll call him Miguel, hence forth, although that is not his real name) was sharing with his friend across from him, explosion photos on their iPhones.

They shared some of the photos with me as I had heard little of the attack. We spoke some, about terrorism, and I returned to reading an in depth story about yesterday’s news and they went back to jawing in Spanish, of which I know little. They seemed excited about where they were headed. Both were nicely dressed, as nice as late teens these days dress. It was as if they had worked hard all day, washed up and were going out. Miguel, at some point, fanned his money. A double date?

They got off, maybe Bayshore, and then a couple stops later I noticed the wallet. It was left on Miguel’s seat, along with a deck of cards. I quickly grabbed both, feeling bad in not discovering it earlier. Miguel was probably showing up to a poker game without cards or money. Not a fun evening.

I asked a passing conductor if he should take the wallet or I should mail it back to the kid. The conductor told me to mail. I opened the wallet and found the following: a NYS Driver’s Learner’s Permit with Miguel’s photo. His listed age was twenty-one with a P.O. Box address out east. There was also $143, a Medicaid card, and a Benefits Card.

Later that evening, I stood on a very long line to mail the wallet back. It was mayhem at the 34th St Main Post Office, being late on April 15th, tax’s deadline. I had plenty of time to wonder of how a kid such as Miguel came to benefit from free food and medical, all paid for by those very people I was on line with. I wondered if Miguel even paid income taxes.

I also wondered, this time aloud, if the terrorist attack was some evil ‘Boston Tea Party’ tax revolt. I got some very stoic stares from line mates, and decided to shut up.

We have since learned that the two Boston terrorists were sons of an immigrant family who took advantage of social programs, stretching from food stamps and welfare to college scholarships, just as Miguel from Long Island has.

Washington reports that there are close to fifty million Americans benefiting from food stamps. That’s not true and Washington should disclose the true numbers. A chunk of that fifty million are obviously Non-Americans. And what gets my crow is that the program doesn’t require the purchase of only American made or grown products. If I didn’t know better, I’d think a foreign country is running this country.

We need to get a better handle on our porous immigration and benefits programs. Realistic incentives need to be put in place be set to get as many immigrants, as possible, to join the rank and file of those law abiding Americans standing on line to pay their taxes. More oversight is needed in the dispense of social benefits to make sure that America’s truly needy receive them.

Ideas can be batted around, but in the end you just can’t ignore the problem: Long Island has been a destination of choice for illegal immigrants and the problem is resulting in children committing suicide.

According to a New York Times story (link below), the nationally award winning East Hampton school district’s student body has grown to 41 percent Hispanic, The school system has had to establish a program that teaches English as a second language. Bravo to that school’s principal who is trying so hard to address a situation that our government has been ignoring. But who foots the bills?

These kids and their families are in a very awkward position of taking from the system, not giving into the system, which creates a resentment among neighbors and results in the high school suicides that are mentioned in the article. Hopefuly Washington will pass an immigration bill that will open avenues toward citizenship.


4 comments (Add your own)

1. Maarten deKadt wrote:
Donathan Salkaln says in his blog, “more oversight is needed in the dispense of social benefits to make sure that America’s truly needy receive them.” In his blog post he wonders if the person he saw on the train speaking Spanish even paid income taxes. But he has no way of knowing that. Social programs are important to many people. That these programs are occasionally abused should not lead to cutting them off to those who do need them. Mr. Salkain has no evidence that the person he saw on the train was an abuser of social programs. In fact, Mr. Salkain’s description of the person he saw on the train more than indicates that he is law-abiding.

One of the good things about CRDC’s political positions is that we have traditionally supported those social programs that help people in need. I hope that we would not now begin supporting programs that make access to social services overly restrictive.

On a slightly different matter, Mr. Salkain wants to require the recipients of social services to “purchase…only American-made or grown products.” That happens to be a very difficult thing to do as exclusively American-made products are hard to find. Automobiles are transnational. Any car you name has components from a multiplicity of countries. The same is true for computers. My cell phone, a Motorola product, was made in China.

I’m pleased that one of CRDC’s members made the effort to be sure that a lost wallet was returned to its rightful owner and that we have started a conversation about the complexities of immigration policies in the context of our heterogeneous society.

Editors note: Maarten deKadt was born in The Netherlands and immigrated to the U.S. as a child.

Fri, May 31, 2013 @ 10:18 AM

2. Paul Groncki wrote:
My grandparents and parents wanted so badly to assimilate that they didn't pass down their first language to me. Hearing other languages is not as common in America as it is in Europe where it is quite common to hear, say, a native-French person converse in another language. In America, we often assume that those who converse easily in other languages are not Americans, when in fact we don't actually know.

And while the Boston bombers were immigrants who betrayed this country, most immigrants that I've known have been extremely patriotic. I remember a woman in a video of my nephew’s boot camp who said that her parents were immigrants; and that she was so grateful for what the U.S. had given her that she wanted to serve. A Korean friend's sister married a Korean American, a doctor who enlisted in the army. When questioned about the prospect of her husband being deployed while she stayed home with two young children, the sister replied that the U.S. had given them everything; they'd give whatever was needed. One of my wife’s students from a Lebanese-American family who is thinking about enlisting after college said something similar to Michelle.

All of my grandparents were immigrants and all of their sons served in the armed forces.

Just because someone is undocumented doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t pay taxes. Many pay taxes so they can get a taxpayer ID and a credit score, allowing them to rent an apartment. And they pay Social Security taxes as well – with not a chance of receiving any benefits. To say nothing of sales taxes and property taxes they pay. They are not eligible for food stamps or Medicaid, so “Miguel” was probably a citizen, not an undocumented immigrant.

Let’s be more careful about the arguments we make about someone’s immigrant status when we don’t know all the facts. When we look at someone who appears to be "other," it is critical to remember the important contributions immigrants - including most of our own ancestors - have made to our country and way of life.

Fri, May 31, 2013 @ 10:19 AM

3. Donathan Salkaln wrote:
Response from Donathan Salkaln:

Dialogue is important. And there are so many millions of great immigrant stories to be heard and latch onto. Thanks for your voices and bravo for all those that have immigrated, here, to our great country.

My personal immigrant story is not so nice, and I prefer not to wave it, along with the American flag, when I see a young strapping Spanish speaking kid with shiny new plastic benefit and medicaid cards. I have to live with the fact that some of my own blood stole this country from the Native Americans. I'm not proud of that fact even though I'm not sure it is even a fact. I assume it is a fact as my immigrant relatives were here and the Indians are no longer.

My concern is that the benefits system needs more oversight. Also, Washington's numbers need to be broken down to true numbers, instead of lumping undocumented immigrants with documented Americans. How else are we to know the extent of the situation that we are arguing about. We also need those 'illegal' immigrants, on April 15th, paying into the system, not going to play poker. Let's not be naive in thinking they line-up at their PO boxes to pay income taxes. From what I have heard, much of their earnings leave our country, getting mailed back to their homeland.

We should also make sure that the money handed out for the Benefit's system is spent reinvesting in the support of the American and Undocumented American jobs, —those jobs that produce and grow the products that line the shelves of our supermarkets. This could be done by simply putting a US of A on the bar code.

Fri, May 31, 2013 @ 10:20 AM

4. Maarten de Kadt wrote:
While the prevention of abuse of social programs is important, that protection should not obscure more serious cause of economic crisis. Paul Krugman, in a moment of sarcasm, said in his 5/31/13 column:

I understand the supposed [Republican] rationale: We’re becoming a nation of takers, and doing stuff like feeding poor children and giving them adequate health care are just creating a culture of dependency — and that culture of dependency, not runaway bankers, somehow caused our economic crisis.

Let's fix banker's greed before we block accommodating poor folks' need.

Sat, June 1, 2013 @ 10:26 AM

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