Monday, May 8, 2017

Water and Other Basic Needs

I’ve been puzzling over what appears to me an unsolvable problem, related in a way to illegal immigration.

There’s this trailer park, not that far from my neighborhood—it was a bus stop when my kids used to ride a school bus to middle school. It’s a pretty poor neighborhood, a step down from a trailer park just to the east.

This trailer park doesn’t have potable water. I thought it must be in the same municipal utilities district that I am, because it’s so close. But I looked on a map, and my neighborhood is apparently as far north as our district goes.

The trailer park has commercial businesses next door and across the street, which have potable water. But the private property on which the trailer park sits, I am told, does not. It is reportedly because the owner of the park does not want to spend the money to supply the park with municipal water.

About half a year ago, there was a news report about a retention pond right behind the trailer park. It’s green because of natural growth in the water, but it’s also filthy. So this standing water is an additional danger for trailer park residents—risk of drowning, 

The pond on the property, from news report

particularly for children, risk of disease, and greater risk of mosquito-borne illness. When this park was first brought to my attention, I think there was confusion that the pond was their source of water; I do not believe that is the case.

Under normal circumstances, no landlord could rent out a place without providing basic utility services, including water. I think the park has running water—just not clean enough for human consumption. It’s unclear to me how long this has been a problem.

I’ve been in meetings with people concerned about these people, and trying to alleviate some of their needs. My friends are working with other churches, plus the American Latino center for Research, Education, and Justice (ALCREJ). Our church has been donating some bottled water, which other churches and a food pantry are delivering, along with other needs.

But this is crisis help, not a long-term solution. The long-term solution would be to get this trailer park hooked up to a municipal water source.

In normal circumstances, government officials could be contacted, to let them know that a landlord is failing to provide clean water to his tenants. Officials could simply be requested to come out and test the water. Then they could pressure the landlord to do whatever upgrades are necessary, with the threat that they could condemn the park so that he couldn’t rent out the spaces.

But most (possibly all) of the tenants are illegal aliens. They can’t call the government; they don’t want anyone to call the government. Because they are illegal, and government “help” could result in deportation, or at the very least turning them out of homes they can more or less afford, with no place to go.

People want to help, but, as one friend said, “Nobody wants to be on the pokey end of that stick.”
So how do good, civilized people help? And should they?

In civilization, people honor God, family, life, property,and truth. In honoring God, we’re asked to love our neighbor as ourselves. There’s a wide range of what fits here. If we’re going to share our property—our wealth, including money, food, and other things—we have to supply for ourselves plus extra. So, to start with, we shouldn’t give up our livelihood or our basic needs.

We value life, so we would want to provide lifesaving supplies to our neighbors in dire need. We don’t want anyone to die of hunger. But life-sustaining supplies aren’t necessarily satisfying. They’re not meant to be. Nor are they meant to be indefinite in most cases.

It is better to do well in business to have jobs to offer than it is to give freebies.

As far as the water issue is concerned, the people in this trailer park are not seeking indefinite freebies, at least not from churches and pantries. They seem to be simply grateful for clean water. I think they drink the unclean water otherwise.

They have come here, presumably, to have better opportunities than they had in the probably third world situations they came from. Many are hard working. But, as illegals, their opportunities are limited. They’re likely doing yard work, restaurant kitchen help, house cleaning, or, if they’re lucky, construction work. Sometimes their pay is well below minimum wage, because they have no recourse if a boss treats them unfairly—except as everyone has, to quit and find other work.

There’s a question about why they come, if their poverty here is so profound. Maybe that takes some perspective. Certainly it would have been better if they had come legally; then all kinds of possibilities open up for their future. But for many of them, their level of poverty here is not greater than they came from.

Here they have running water, though unclean; they may have come from no running water, and probably unclean, whatever the source. Here they have electricity; they might not have had that. Here they have shelter—and even though it’s pretty poor, that trailer park has been there since before we moved here nearly two decades ago, and has survived hurricanes and tropical storms. It doesn’t look like much, but it’s better than nothing. Maybe better than they had.

Their children have schools here—the same schools my children went to before we pulled them out to homeschool. And they’ll be learning English. That means the next generation, while not as well off as if they had immigrated legally, or with more and better resources, is still several steps ahead of what they left behind.

So, unfortunately, there’s a logic in their minds about the decision to come here illegally. But their decision to do so likely leaves them in poverty for a generation or two—inescapable if they get into drugs or other illegal activities.

If the conditions are truly unacceptable, then it is a greater kindness to them to enforce border laws so that only legal immigrants come, which will mean better resources and opportunities for their future one they go through that difficult process.

We cannot alleviate all of the economic suffering worldwide simply with American largesse. There’s a good video that explains visually why that is:

So, what we need to offer is basic help, so that they can help themselves in their countries of origin. Some of this could be government help, but I suspect that non-governmental organizations are more likely to succeed, going to the people in need, assessing the next step, and offering help in that. It might be developing a clean water source. It might be developing a power supply. It might be upgrading their educational opportunities. It might be providing capital for micro-businesses.

The problem in the trailer park exists because there is an unscrupulous landowner. But such a person gets away with being unscrupulous because he is dealing with illegals.

When there are wrongs done, correcting them is a first step. I don’t know how these people without resources can do that, other than going back home and starting the process legally. That’s a hard thing. Maybe harder than they can even visualize. But it is certainly no kindness to make conditions even worse by inviting more of the poor around the world to sneak in illegally and try to live in the shadows.

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