'Mistake' Costs Illegal Immigrant $59,000

The article "Mistake Costs Dishwasher $59,000" details the trials and tribulations of Pedro Zapeta, an illegal immigrant from Guatemala. The article explains that:

Two years ago, Zapeta was ready to return to Guatemala, so he carried a duffel bag filled with $59,000 -- all the cash he had scrimped and saved over the years -- to the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

So an illegal immigrant (who, by the way, doesn't speak English) tries to leave the country on an airplane with $59,000 cash stuffed in a duffel bag. How could this plan go wrong?

The article goes on to paint Zapeta in the most sympathetic light possible, pointing out that Zapeta, "lived his version of the American dream in Stuart, Florida: washing dishes and living frugally to bring money back to his home country." The article claimed that Zapeta had worked in this country for 11 years.

But as Zapeta was leaving the country, a customs official discovered the cash.

Zapeta ... said he didn't know he was running afoul of U.S. law by failing to declare he was carrying more than $10,000 with him. Anyone entering or leaving the country with more than $10,000 has to fill out a one-page form declaring the money to U.S. customs.

Customs officials seized the money, and the remainder of the article details Zapeta's legal struggle to recover his money (not to mention stay in the country). Although he "admits he never paid taxes," the article cites Zapeta's statement that "[t]hey are treating me like a criminal when all I am is a working man." Zapeta later states, "I am desperate. I no longer feel good about this country." predictably does not point out the irony that Zapeta actually is a criminal - and wasn't supposed to be in this country in the first place.

For good measure, a sympathetic immigration attorney bemoans: "When you are poor, uneducated and illegal, your avenues are cut." identifies Zapeta's "mistake" as being his failure to fill out the proper customs form. The sentiment of the article was that if Zapeta had only filled out the proper one-page form, he would be home free with his $59,000. 

At the outset, it is implausible to consider (as the article implies) that customs officials would have approved an illegal alien's request to exit the country with $59,000 cash in a duffel bag.

But setting that aside, it is an insult to all law-abiding Americans to frame Zapeta's "mistake" as being his failure to successfully flee the country with his ill-gotten, untaxed cash. Zapeta's "mistake" was entering this country illegally in the first place. Zapeta compounded his error by failing to pay income taxes - which over 11 years would likely comprise a significant portion of the $59,000. Wouldn't we all like to keep 100% of our earnings for the next 11 years?    

The article further does not reference the "mistake" made by Zapeta's employer, who presumably paid Zapeta under-the-table and gained a competitive advantage over other businesses who played by the rules. The article also completely ignores the point that aggressive prosecutions of these cases act as a deterrent to others who would seek to illegally enter this country. 

But these issues don't stand in the way of's weeping sympathy for the poor, uneducated, frugal dishwasher from Guatemala who made the "mistake" of getting caught.


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