Ambiguous refugees: Blackbirding in 1943

cb767e2dc78a52a15d3972568e9283d7Here’s another example of smuggling of migrants in the informal economy, from Dorothy B. Hughes’s The Blackbirder, 1943. The conversation takes place at a bar in New York, between two ‘refugees’, one a Frenchwoman pursued by Nazis in France and the other a German man who was living in France. The woman has tried unsuccessfully to avoid him, because she thinks he may be a Nazi and also because she herself travelled via Portugal and Cuba, where she bought a false passport to enter the US. The man takes her to a ‘rathskeller’ in Yorktown, on New York’s Upper East Side. The discussion centres on how to get in and out of the country using ‘informal’ methods.

‘You say it is simple. But you are a German.’

‘A refugee,’ he said smugly.

She pressed it. A German would not be admitted. ‘How did you come into this country?’ […]

‘If you can pay for it, it is easy. There are planes every week from Old Mexico into New Mexico. A regular tram line. You pay for your seat, in you go! Or if you like – out you go. So simple.’

‘Who runs this? Not – not the Gestapo?’

‘Oh no!’ Now he looked over his shoulder as if he sensed a listener. Now he did drop his voice. ‘It is not run for governments – not for any governments, nor by any governments. It is a business venture. In Mexico and New Mexico. I ask no questions. A passenger does not question the carrier which transports him. Certainly not.’ The line of his mouth was greedy. ‘It is a good business, this blackbirding. A big business.’ Again he winked. His thumb and forefinger made a round. ‘I wouldn’t mind having a little slice of it.’ His eyes were slits of obsidian. It is like the American prohibition. No taxes to pay. You pay no tax when there is no business, no registered business. Certainly not! The receipts – some are very large – are all for you.’

14392168185Later in the book the protagonist is in a position to help US authorities catch the real bad guys but won’t, in case she is deported, since she has no legal entry visa. Does all this not ring a large bell loudly?

-Laura Agustín, The Naked Anthropologist

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