A series of Phoenix newspaper columns sheds light on the insanity of our country's immigration policies

Laurie Roberts writes a column for The Arizona Republic. She often finds under-the-radar stories that either tug at the heartstrings or jab a sharp stick in the jaundiced eye of bureaucracy. But she recently wrote a series of columns that made many of her readers angry, and left me, at the very least, bewildered.

She told of a Phoenix family that had been kidnapped and held at gunpoint for ransom not once, but twice. That's the puzzling part, since the odds of that happening even once are astronomical.

About two-thirds of the way into the first column, it began to make sense. It seems that a couple, Jaime and Araceli, came here illegally from Mexico several years ago and settled in Phoenix. Jaime found work smuggling other people across the border, which, obviously, is a lucrative position with plenty of growth potential. However, through a translator, he says that he stopped a few years back.

Yes, he's been here a decade and still needs a translator. I know that sounds like redneck humbug, but I—a person who absolutely sucks at speaking other languages—am pretty sure that if I were to sneak into Peru or Germany or (God help me) France with the intent of living there for the rest of my life, I'd make the effort to learn that country's language. That seems to be the very, very least I could do.

Anyway, he says that he got out of the hands-on part of human smuggling when it began to turn violent. Some enterprising coyotes figured out that they could charge to smuggle people across the border and then hold people for ransom from friends or family members once they got here. America is indeed the land of opportunity.

Jaime got out of the actual smuggling business and began making money buying cars and selling them to the smugglers to use in their smuggling/kidnapping schemes. I wonder how you say "rationalization" in Spanish. Or I guess you could just put your hands at shoulder height, palms out, and say, "Yo no fui." (It wuddn't me.)

I'm fairly certain that Roberts didn't write the columns to drum up sympathy for people who broke the law to come here and then lived a fairly comfortable life with money gained from committing multiple felonies. At least I hope she didn't.

Her focus was mainly on what happened to the family the second time they got jacked by fellow smugglers. After armed men broke into their apartment and got away with $1,300 in cash and a bunch of gold jewelry, the family moved to a house in another part of Phoenix. A year later, it happened again: Gunmen broke into the house, which was home to the family and several relatives. One man put a gun to Araceli's head as her children screamed. When her husband emerged from the bathroom, he was beaten and kicked as demands for money were issued.

The gunmen eventually left, taking vehicles, cell phones and Jaime. He was taken to another location where he was beaten and tortured for three days as the kidnapers issued sporadic ransom demands. Araceli called the cops, and the police nabbed one of the guys when he arrived to pick up the ransom. After hours of negotiation, during which the charge of kidnapping was taken off the table, he led police to the house where Jaime was being held.

The guy was offered a sentence of 12 1/2 years, but turned it down, ostensibly because he believed that his homies would see to it that Jaime and Araceli would not testify. But they did testify, and the thug got a sentence of 54 years. Now he says that he didn't understand the original offer, and he'll take the 12 1/2 years, to which the courts have thus far replied, "Uh ... no."

People with high blood pressure will be thrilled to learn that Jaime and Araceli are now living in this country legally and are applying for a visa given to crime victims. They came here illegally, but now they get to stay because they were the victims of a crime brought about by their having committed countless crimes themselves. Land of opportunity, hell; this is the land of all-out zaniness.

Phoenix and Houston are vying for the unenviable title of Kidnapping Capital of the United States. Hundreds of kidnappings have taken place in Phoenix over the past few years, but they're almost always perpetrated against smugglers, drug dealers and/or illegal aliens.

Roberts and others are concerned that the kidnappings might spill over into the general, law-abiding population. Anything is possible, but I'm not all that concerned. Most violent crime in this country is knucklehead-on-knucklehead, thug-on-thug. In America, the majority of people who get shot each year know the person who shot them. Bad stuff happens to good people, but it tends to happen to bad people more often.

It's simplistic to say that if these people had never come here illegally and had not chosen to raise their kids on the proceeds of one felony after another, they probably wouldn't have been kidnapped, terrorized and tortured. But just because it's simplistic doesn't mean that it's incorrect.