The Klutz Factor in Migration Management

By David North on August 1, 2016

Five years ago I wrote about the klutz factor associated with some illegal aliens:

I feel sorry for the guy, and am pleased that the Border Patrol rescued him from the flooded Rio Grande, but the news story reminded me of the seldom-remarked-upon klutz factor in illegal immigration.

According to the account he was stranded in a tree while trying to cross the flooded river and had been there for five days. The BP spokesperson said that he was ‘severely dehydrated.'

A dehydrated flood victim? The water in the Rio Grande is pretty unattractive, I am sure, but it is not sea water; if you are really thirsty, you can drink it. Or maybe he was like an inept cat that can climb the tree but cannot get back down again.

I was reminded of that story, when I encountered a corporate version of the same kind of mindless ineptitude, involving another report from South Texas, and another story of illegal entrants who had crossed the Rio Grande.

Here's the setting. Tens of thousands of illegal aliens from three Central American countries flow across the Rio Grande annually, often turning themselves in to the Border Patrol, and often being detained in the detention center funded by the Department of Homeland Security in Dilley, Texas. This is in the middle of nowhere, some 80 miles north of Laredo. It is run by the Corrections Corporation of America, under contract with DHS.

Many of the detainees cannot speak either Spanish or English, a disconcerting fact that is never mentioned in the press. They use one of the indigenous languages of Central America. Perhaps the largest number of these monolingual migrants are from Guatemala, the K'iche speakers; there are 1.6 million of them in the rural reaches of that country. It is a Mayan language.

CCA, commendably, wants to communicate with these migrants and has advertised for a "Translation Specialist K'iche" to work at Dilley, as I reported last winter.

I looked into this specialized personnel matter again yesterday, and found that Dilley's help wanted ad for this position was still running almost six months later and it appears that they now want at least two of them.

They want someone who is fluent in K'iche, and Spanish, and English, and they want a high school diploma or a GED; and they want someone who will work in a detention camp in a sparsely populated part of Texas. And they are running their ads, on the internet anyway, in English.

An imaginative HR person or camp manager could have solved this shortage in a twinkle of an eye, by forgetting about the diploma if need be, and by recruiting among the center's current population. Surely with a lot of K'iche speakers in the place, one or two of them would be fluent in Spanish and well as the indigenous language and would be willing to accept a job in the camp in return for a path to a green card, which DHS certainly could offer. With camp management, one hopes, thoroughly bilingual, there would be less need for English fluency, which may be rare in the Dilley Center's population of K'iche speakers.

Other ways of filling the gap – unless the wage was too low, which may be the key to the situation – would be to recruit K'iche speakers who are already in the U.S. and have relatives in the camp; or to ask DHS to use the immigration system to recruit back in Guatemala, through perhaps H-2B or the Parole program, to fill the jobs temporarily.

It is a little ridiculous, with all those K'iche speakers sloshing through Dilley's own system, that these positions have not been filled. Unless it is the wages. Correction officers are paid $13.11 an hour at Dilley, and case managers get $16.90.

CCA's net income, according to its own financial reports, averaged a quarter of a billion dollars a year in 2013 and 2014.