Law and Literature: Illegal Immigration
Print this article
Font Size
The Tortilla Curtain
View ArticleView Article Comments

To many illegal immigrants, the people in the first scenario described above have achieved more than the American Dream, and have now become greedy and wasteful. In The Tortilla Curtain, Cándido observes traffic hurtling past him. He wonders, "…what was the hurry, the constant hurry? Making a buck, that’s what. Building their glass office towers and adding up the figures on their dark little TV screens, getting richer—that’s what the hurry was" (91). From their point of view, Americans are always in need of more: more money, more property, more clothes, more cars, more of everything. The "haves" never seem to be satisfied, and they are constantly challenged in trying to figure out how to pay less to get more.

In addition to this never-satisfied attitude, American citizens may seem to be ignorant to the fact that illegal immigrants are living, breathing human beings. In fact, it seems that illegal immigrants are merely a statistic in our society, a statistic that continues to grow, and continues to affect the economy in some way. When Delaney is speaking with Jack at the supermarket, Jack puts forth his view on illegal immigration and how it is affecting both of them in a very personal way. Jack says:
The ones coming in through the Tortilla Curtain down there, those are the ones that are killing us. They’re peasants, my friend. No education, no resources, no skills—all they’ve got to offer is a strong back, and the irony is we need fewer and fewer strong backs every day because we’ve got robotics and computers and farm machines that can do the labor of a hundred men at a fraction of the cost. (101)
Jack speaks in such a manner that implicates both arrogance and ignorance. He represents the arrogant, wealthy person who cannot see past the end of his or her nose. He is so consumed by his own world, and is part of the ever-constant hustle-and-bustle of the save-a-buck-to-make-a-buck society. But Jack is also representative of the ignorant individuals in today’s society. The only thing that Jack knows is that these invaders are worthless, and he accepts this as a fact, and leaves it at that. He fails to see them as individuals, with very personal hopes and dreams, and consolidates them into a group that seemingly has no collective value.

No matter what your opinion may be with regard to illegal immigration, this issue is very problematic, and is a topic of national concern. For those of you situated in the Midwest, far away from the day-to-day drama of the borders, the issue seems to be a little more difficult to grasp. In fact, many people may view illegal immigrants collectively as both a statistic and a problem. Many people believe that the government should implement a team of people to comb the streets, slowly weeding out the "illegals" in order to improve the economy. In other words, many people are ignorant "Jacks". However, your view may change after reading The Tortilla Curtain. You may come to recognize that these are people, with real feelings, and real obstacles that they must face.

The most poignant part of the novel is when the author reveals that Delaney’s license plate reads "PILGRIM". Although the majority of us American citizens did not personally immigrate to this country, it is likely that our ancestors made the trek over to the New World. We are a nation of immigrants—a nation of pilgrims who made a long journey. Today, although we may not have engaged in such long travels to reach the United States of America, we are pilgrims, too. But our pilgrimage comes from within our deepest core—our beliefs. We must allow ourselves to journey both mentally and psychologically from viewing illegal immigrants as both a statistic and a problem, to viewing them as human beings, just like us.

Finally, let’s wrap this editorial up by going over a few key points.

Related Legal Words