A raid on reason

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) notified the U.S. Census Bureau recently that it shouldn't expect any let-up in the number of workplace raids during the 2010 census.

Around the time of the 2000 census, federal immigration officials gave the Census Bureau some breathing room, reducing the number of raids in the months just before and after the census count so that reliable population numbers could be secured. Nonprofit organizations, churches, school systems and other institutions that serve large numbers of immigrant families were provided with information sheets, stickers, pins and other publicity materials to promote participation in the census.


Many of us in the Latino community made personal assurances to immigrant residents we knew that the census was confidential and that answering the questions honestly was essential to making sure that Wisconsin got its fair share of federal resources and representation.

Many immigrants complied with the 2000 census, giving the interviewers data about their family structure, household income, and other personal topics. The result was a more accurate (i.e., higher) count of the number of people who live in our state and therefore a larger slice of the federal revenue pie for things like education, economic development, administrative services and healthcare.


For the Milwaukee Public Schools, for example, an accurate count of our constituents means that we get more federal Title I dollars and can provide more services that don't depend on the local property tax. Ironically, MPS Title I services have included classes in English as a Second Language and citizenship for parents so that they can better communicate with schools about their children's education.

Of course, soon after the 2000 census was completed, the political landscape changed and immigrants of any sort became the targets of federal fire. The number of raids went through the roof and a whole bunch of…



Hey, buddy. Got $14 billion on ya?

Apparently people in the U.S. have more disposable income than I thought, because an article in the New York Times this week reports that Americans spent that much on "cosmetic medical procedures (from liposuction to laser skin treatments)." The article also notes that more people of modest means are getting nipped and tucked. A 2004 survey by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons found that about a third of those considering plastic surgery had household incomes below $30,000.

In true U.S. style, more people are going into debt to get their breasts lifted and their ears pinned. Of that $14 billion, one billion was financed by credit companies. With hundreds of dollars up front for loan processing fees and years of double-digit interest payments, your little $5,000 abdominoplasty can nearly double in price over the course of a loan. 

New credit companies, some of them bragging that they won't turn any borrower down, are springing up to meet the growing interest in cosmetic surgery loans. When loans aren't enough, some surgery-seekers are putting their plastic on plastic, meaning they might be paying as much as 25 percent interest on their newly toned arms and legs.

This kind of debt-wish behavior makes me wonder about what these creditors will do if the borrowers can't keep up with the payments. I mean, Ford won't bat an eyelid before repossessing the minivan if we don't get that check in before the 5th of the month, but what if the debt was for new eyelids?  The remake of "Repo Man" is going to be pretty creepy.

For some people, cosmetic surgery can make real improvements in their appearance and consequently in their self-confidence. For most of us, though, it's just miserable striving. In fact, a longitudinal study of over 3,500 Swedish women, published this month in the Annals of Plastic Surgery, found that women who got breast implants were three times more likely to kill themselves or to die from drug o…


Home theater

Something weird happened the other day. Tina and I were at home, working. I don't remember what editorial project I was chipping away at, but I was on deadline and a little cranky.

So, I wasn't happy when someone knocked on the front door, even though it was Tina who first went to answer it. A woman, a stranger, was on the porch, a little breathless.  Something about her delivery, the volume and rapidity of her story, made me come into the foyer to back Tina up.

The woman introduced herself as Victoria Davis and said she was our neighbor around the corner, living with her husband Mark Davis. She gave an address which, if it existed, would have put her in the four-flat next to us, facing out on a street perpendicular to ours. The number didn't sound familiar and she didn't look like anyone I'd seen in that building.

She said her son had had a bad asthma attack that afternoon and was resting at home, but that she needed to fill his prescription for a fast-acting inhaler. She was short $10.09 for the prescription. She held up an inhaler cap (presumably from the one her son had just finished) and asked if any of our kids used that kind and, if so, maybe we could loan her theirs. She also held up her hand, showing us the edge of a folded greenback of some sort: "I've got $20, but I'm short $10.09." She reached for the thigh pocket on her cargo pants and said, "I'm not making this up. I can show you my ID ..." but didn't produce an actual card.

"Hmm," I said to the back of Tina's head, but I let her roll with it. Tina asked which pharmacy the prescription was at.

"Oh, you know, that one down there," Victoria said, gesturing vaguely to the west. She obviously wasn't from the neighborhood. Everyone on Brady Street knows that there are three pharmacies on the east end of our street and none to the west. Right. I had to step in.

"Why don't you tell us which pharmacy it is, and we'll call and make the payment so you can get it filled?" I suggested. Vict…