First things first, I sincerely hope that Thomas Torres is allowed to graduate from Desert View High School next week. He has put in the years of work; he deserves the diploma. I hope everything else works out for him, too, but doggone it, he's got to do his part. And I really hope that some of his supporters tone down the rhetoric; they're in real danger of running off potential supporters.
We first learned of young Mr. Torres last week when the car he was driving was pulled over for having no registration or insurance. During the traffic stop, Torres admitted to being undocumented. According to the law, the deputy had to notify Border Patrol, which took Torres into custody.
Poor Arizona Daily Star columnist Tim Stellar twisted himself into a pretzel trying to explain why Torres gave multiple names when asked for his ID. It was Thomas Torres. Then it was Thomas Torres Maytorena. In an earlier scrape with the police (more on that later), it was Thomas Antonio Torres. Let's hope there's not a next time, but if there is, maybe he should try Jason Bourne.
A few days later, dozens of students staged a walkout from school and walked all the way to the Sheriff's Department, some four miles away, to protest Torres' situation. As I watched on the late news that night, I thought, "Ah, a good old student walkout."
The students took turns on the megaphone. "Free Thomas!" shouted one.
"This shouldn't be happening."
"He didn't do anything wrong."
And then, "They just hate us because of our race."
SOUND OF A PHONOGRAPH NEEDLE SCRATCHING ACROSS AN LP.
I work with teenagers all the time and occasionally I'll tell one of them: "You're young and therefore stupid. Your youth gives you license to be temporarily stupid, just don't stay there too long."
That kid and a couple who followed with further comments on skin color have taken up residence in Stupid, USA, and they need to be making plans to move on because they're playing right into the hands of Right-Wing Talk Radio Host, who uses those sound bites to whip the "Real Americans" into a frenzy. And Torres needs to get smarter, as well. (He faces a hearing in Immigration Court on the May 22, the same day he is supposed to graduate.)
Growing up in The Projects, I didn't have to worry about being scooped up and sent to a country about which I knew basically nothing. I didn't have that hanging over my head, so I at least knew that whatever crap was going to be dumped on me would happen in the United States. But my friends and I had good reason(s) to fear the authorities. The LAPD had a group called the Metro Squad that they deployed in the ghetto. We always thought that they were guys who hadn't killed enough people in Vietnam, so they put them in our neighborhood to get their quota.
If you got stopped by the Metro Squad, there was a decent chance that they were going to hit you with that stick (which really hurt!) and also a chance that they would take you to the station, have you sit around in a holding area for a couple hours and then let you go. My family was so poor, we didn't own a car, so that meant walking back to the PJs. And the only way to get there was down the railroad tracks, which meant running a gauntlet of winos, hobos, drug dealers and other anti-social types. One of my high-school teammates got beaten to death on those tracks. And he was tall and black while I was short and white. At a Cotillion, that would increase my odds of success. On those tracks, no.
And so we learned to avoid certain situations that would nudge us into a Venn diagram with the Metro Squad. If we got into a car in which someone had alcohol, we'd get back out. If there was a gathering of giant knuckleheads that invited us to go hang on the street corner with them, we would politely decline and go find a group of lesser knuckleheads with which to hang. (I remember telling a Giant Knucklehead one time, "Naw, we're not bad-ass enough to be with you guys. Maybe in a couple years." Fortunately, he took it as a compliment.)
Which brings us back to Mr. Torres and his plight. I have been a staunch supporter of the DACA program since its inception. I actually don't think that it goes far enough. However, it's not a blank check. I don't want to hear about some kid who got busted for counter-hopping at the local convenience store only to have someone say, "It's not his fault. He was brought here as a child."
Likewise for Torres, who shouldn't have been driving that car and damn sure shouldn't have had containers of alcohol in the vehicle. And, as it turns out, he had previously been popped for possession of marijuana.
It's sad that these kids have to walk around on eggshells but the reality of their situation should teach them to at least avoid the really obvious pitfalls. If you're walking around on eggshells, it might be wise not to be weighed down by that bag of weed.