Immigration, Crime And the American Dream

Imagine Emma Lazarus and President Trump debating how America should treat immigrants.

The America Lazarus presents in “The New Colossus,” is a grand welcoming giant telling the world to “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
Trump would warn against those huddled masses, saying “they’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” Lazarus reaches out to the “wretched refuse of your teeming shore.” Trump turns his back on the “bad hombrés” from “shithole countries.”

Full disclosure: I am an immigrant. When I tell my friends this, especially the ones who sit left-of-center, that I am from Toronto, nine times out of ten they reply with something along the lines of, “well, come on, Canada doesn’t really count. Y’all are just like us. Same soda; just sugar-free and zero calories.”

Sure, for this article’s sake, I’ll take that. Because here’s the thing: I am so divided on immigration to the US that the argument going on in my consciousness feels like a tennis ball being whacked back and forth on the asphalt of Arthur Ashe stadium.

I recognize the hypocrisy of third generation Americans who vehemently oppose immigration even though their families wouldn’t be in the States without it. They’re so quick to see today’s immigrants as corrupt criminals while conveniently forgetting their Jersey cop granddad’s mafia connections. Still, no one understands the pangs of a poorly managed immigration system more than I do. If America could strengthen its border protection, it could afford to take care of its own populace.

Perhaps we’re asking the wrong questions. Perhaps the relationship among the United States, its citizens and immigration needs to be looked at from a historical perspective and a marketing perspective. In other words: How has anyone who has ever migrated to the United States of America in the past behaved? And what is the image America is selling to the rest of the world?

America’s history is the story of a land stolen from its inhabitants by European immigrants who organized, pillaged and murdered their way to great financial success and totalitarian commercial enterprise. The Dutch East India Trading Company was, at its core, organized crime.

“In the United States of America, the true melting pot has been organized crime. The process of becoming America is rooted in gangsterism. If you start with the supposition that the country is by its very nature a criminal enterprise—colonized and taken by force from the indigenous population, then facilitated by an economic system of human enslavement that was eventually determined to be illegal—you get the picture.” It seems, on the surface anyhow, a theory pretty hard to argue.

These are the opening words from New York Times bestselling author and “America’s top chronicler of organized crime,” T.J. English—New York City’s resident authority on organized crime. T.J. is back with a new True-Crime history released by William Morrow Press (a subsidiary of Harper Collins) March 20 called The Corporation: An Epic Story of the Cuban American Underworld. The book, a follow-up to his successful Havana Nocturne, follows the story of José Miguel Battle y Vargas (aka “El Pedrino” or “The Godfather”), who built a criminal empire out of an entire population of political exiles and refugees from Cuba into America.

Just like English’s previous works, The Westies, Born to Kill, Paddy Whacked and The Savage City, The Corporation is a stellar feat of research, writing and storytelling. But what makes The Corporation so relatable today is the extra-layer of validated conscientious philosophy he provides in light of today’s immigration debate.

Point: “In 1959, Cuba was under siege by a Soviet-backed Dictator. America must receive Capitalist refugees who fought alongside the CIA against Castro in the Bay of Pigs.”
Counterpoint: “They built a Mafia stretching from southern Florida all the way up to New York and New Jersey and brutally murdered hundreds to maintain power.”

To hear more from T.J. directly and learn more about his new release The Corporation, listen to the Book Talk episode here.