Columns » John Brummett

Saga of Jim and Maria

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At the foot of the marble stairway in our state Capitol, I bumped into state Sen. Jim Holt of Springdale and got to tell him about “Maria Full of Grace.” It’s only a movie, like Mel Gibson’s. As the story goes, Maria is a teenage Colombian girl living in a small house with her extended family and working in a sweatshop taking thorns from roses. She becomes pregnant. The sweatshop boss won’t let her go to the bathroom. She quits, alarming her family, which depends on her income. She and her boyfriend admit they don’t love each other. She rejects marriage. She also rejects ending the pregnancy. She meets a young man who turns out to be tied to the Colombian drug trade. She decides to become a “mula,” meaning drug mule. Carrying phony papers, she swallows pellets of heroin and flies commercially with the dope inside her to New York City, ostensibly to visit a friend’s sister. She gets detained at the New York airport, but escapes an incriminating X-ray because of her pregnancy. She is met by two men who take her and two other young women similarly “employed” to a motel room to pass the pellets, which Maria does. But things go terribly wrong with another of the young women and Maria flees to wander the streets of New York City. She sees a clinic offering prenatal care. Worried that swallowing heroin might have harmed her baby, she goes in. She happens to have cash, provided by the drug people. She pays for an ultrasound showing her baby to be fine. She makes an appointment for a follow-up visit. When things work out on the drug deal, she takes her return ticket to the airport and prepares to board a flight for Colombia. At the last minute, she decides to stay in America. That’s the end. She walks out of the terminal an illegal alien. You wonder what happens to her family in Colombia, since the drug lords had promised to harm them if she did anything funny. But she has chosen to attend to her more immediate family, the one in her belly, the one soon to be an American responsibility. You wonder where she’ll go and how she’ll get by. Holt has the bill to require state agency people to turn in anyone seeking services who can’t prove American citizenship. I told him I supposed he would have denied care to Maria at the clinic, then sent her back to the drug lords. Oh, no, he said. First, he insisted his bill wouldn’t affect prenatal care. He said he intended to amend it to allow a doctor to decide whether to provide that care. Even so, a pregnant illegal immigrant seeking such care on the public tab would risk a high price. Yes, she might receive medical attention. But a state official not turning her in for likely deportation could face misdemeanor charges and a fine. Second, Holt said the character in the movie didn’t fall under the provisions of his bill because she didn’t seek welfare, but had cash. He said he supported personal responsibility. Let’s give him credit for not having thought that through. Surely he did not mean to condone illegal immigrants so long as they had money — drug money, no less — and to punish them only if they were penniless. I told him his bill was hateful. He said no one who knows him would ever accuse him of hatefulness and that a lot of people angry about illegal immigration would prefer a harsher bill. He said his only interest was the rule of law. I said his problem was with federal officials charged with protecting borders and that a lowly state senator could do nothing other than grandstand. He denied grandstanding, but agreed the issue was ultimately federal. Oh, well. “Maria Full of Grace” is only a movie. Nothing like it happens in real life.

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