“Men track down criminals to bring them to justice according to the law, but, I track down criminals to bring them to justice according to my mercy.”
PHOTO CREDIT: scottandtem photography
The initial letters of the words “Non Draco Sit Mihi Dux” (Let not the dragon be my guide) is found inscribed on the horizontal bar of the Cross and medal of St. Benedict. And this pretty much sums up my current position on the possibility of U.S. Immigration Reform in 2010. Let not the dragon, the Devil, be my guide.
Immigration reform and the manifold human issues surrounding it are not only complicated for me, but, emotionally charged matter too. As I suspect they are for many Catholics. The source escapes me, but, there’s a quote on justice I’ve read recently that describes the issue succinctly, reportedly from Our Lord, it goes something like this:
“Men track down criminals to bring them to justice according to the law, but, I track down criminals to bring them to justice according to my mercy.”
It could be speculation on my part, and maybe erroneous, but, I believe this is the position most Catholic Americans like myself find themselves at on the subject of immigration reform– caught between authentic needs for justice according to the laws of the land, and, acting justly in accord with the Divine Mercy.
For example, My wife and Three kids were traveling South down Hwy 101 along the coast of California this past summer, and drove up on a van parked alongside a desolate stretch of road in that part of the country. As I drove past I noticed a Hispanic family gathered in front of their vehicle with the hood up. Pulling over, I backed up to the van and we all got out. There were 2 young women, one pregnant, along with their children, and an elderly woman and her husband. The old man was the only male there, except, for a young boy who appeared to be around the same age as my 10-year-old son, Andrew. I could tell by their body language as I walked up that they were apprehensive. Looking over the old man, I noticed right away the Saint Benedict Cross hanging from his neck, pointed at it, and gave the old man a Christian embrace. They were put at ease, as were we all.
Long story short, none spoke a bit of english, except for the young boy, and that was very broken. The husband’s had left the vehicle to find a phone, because they had no cell phone reception to call for help. I didn’t have the tool to help fix the van for them, but we took the name and number of the person they were calling for help along with us, and went in search of the walking men, but, without luck. We managed to call and reach the help party, gave them directions to the van, and checking back later discovered all was well with them.
Were they illegal immigrants? Probably, but, maybe not.
Would I turn them in if I found out they were? No.
Why, because they’re Catholic? No, again.
As a former cross-country truck driver I’ve helped Hispanics without signs of religion. These were simply people stranded along the same road we were traveling on, and it was the right thing to do, or better said, the just thing to do. (There’s a metaphor here…).
But, looks are deceiving, right?
There is another side of the illegal immigration coin. Which, makes the following disturbing story from the Dallas Morning News a prime example of the need for authentic immigration reform according to the laws of the land for the common good. “Immigrant Justice” cannot be “Catholic Code” for “Open Borders” for illegal aliens when it comes to immigration law; our nation at war and domestic issues concerning public safety demands order and enforcement. But, as Catholics we can’t forget either what underlies human dignity or divine priorities. The purpose and meaning of life–to come to know, love, and serve God in this life and be with Him forever in the next–rises above extreme nationalism.
For the record, the man in the story below, Balmer Valencia Bernabe, is Catholic and is an illegal alien. And as you’ll learn, his crimes and the crimes that he and his organization are envolved in within our country would make any of us say, “Begone, Satan, do not suggest to me thy vanities — evil are the things thou profferest, drink thou thy own poison.” (“Vade Retro Satana, Nunquam Suade Mihi Vana — Sunt Mala Quae Libas, Ipse Venena Bibas”).
The temptation here, of course, is simply to put away such people, lock these up and throw away the key, or worse, the death penalty. Their crimes are against both God and man, and the truth is, they most certainly are grave and there’s no getting around it. But, we profess to know the cure for all those who sit in such darkness, and we do. After all, the same Spirit of God that has brought us redemption from sin and freedom from death in divine love, also convinces us of our own sin, as well as those of the world. Yet, we have been restored to justice by mercy. It is our duty, (now that we know), to make known that same ‘Great Light’ we’ve seen within our souls for all those who have yet to see it, those who remain within hopeless darkness and fear of death. We who continually count upon the mercies of the Innocent Man Who died a criminal’s death on our behalf and for all, can never forget that the law-breaker and guilty among us were once, excepting Original Sin, innocent from the womb.
After my own read of the story, it’s obvious that we must pray very very deeply for Balmer Valencia Bernabe, and for his wife and children too. That Jesus, as stated above, will bring him back to justice according to His Merciful Heart–as he like all men sitting in the dark is most in need of being lead to ask of God, “Be my Light” (Sit Mihi Lux), so as to know concretely in the flesh another word found inscribed atop St. Benedict’s Cross–Peace. (Pax).
EDITORS NOTE: This is Immigration Week, according to the United States Council of Catholic Bishops. If you are confused about the positions of the Catholic Church on Immigration Reform or Catholic Social Teachings, read them here. Also, I am interested in your input on the following story and immigration reform, so don’t hesitate to use the combox and let me know your views…
NOTE: Inappropriate or disrespectful comments will suffer the fate of trash bucket hell for all eternity.
The story follows:
Dallas man who seemed like ‘normal guy’ moved meth for cartel, agents say
By SCOTT K. PARKS / The Dallas Morning News
No one would have wanted Balmer Valencia Bernabe for a neighbor if they had known how he earned a living. And no one did know until 6:30 a.m. on Oct. 21.
Ovella Thompson awakened that Wednesday morning to the sound of federal agents breaking down the door at a crème-colored brick home across the street. Their search warrant alleged that Bernabe, an illegal Mexican immigrant, used the Garland “stash house” near Lake Ray Hubbard to store methamphetamine, vehicles, cash and ledgers documenting his business dealings.
Twenty miles away, at approximately the same minute, a young father named Rafael awakened in his Love Field-area home and pulled back the curtains to watch federal agents bust into a house across the street and arrest Bernabe.
“You could hear the cops screaming,” recalled Rafael, who asked that his last name not be used. “Who could have known? He and his wife have kids. He looked like a normal guy.”
Bernabe, at age 34, is anything but a normal guy.
Although he has pleaded not guilty to drug charges, federal investigators say he exemplifies how Mexican drug cartels have extended their operations to the retail level in the United States.
Once upon a time, the cartels were content to stay in Mexico and wholesale their drugs to Americans willing to smuggle them across the border to reap huge profits on the streets of large U.S. cities.
Now, the cartels are vertically integrating their “companies” in much the same way oil companies expanded from drilling to refining to selling gasoline on street corners early in the 20th century.
“Dallas is a hub for drugs just like American Airlines uses Dallas as its hub for air travel,” said Phil Jordan, a retired agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration in Texas.
When he was arrested in October, Bernabe had been living in the predominantly Hispanic neighborhood just west of Love Field since August 2005. He had been deported as an illegal immigrant and had re-entered the U.S. illegally.
Court records say he often traveled between the U.S. and Mexico. Federal agents identified him as one of five Dallas-area cell leaders for La Familia, an organized-crime group based in Michoacán, Mexico.
La Familia specializes in manufacturing and selling methamphetamine, a powerful, addictive stimulant known as “ice.” Prolonged use can result in brain damage, heart failure, kidney failure, liver damage and vitamin deficiencies that cause skin disease, bone weakness and tooth loss.
Meth can be so exhilarating that users will engage in risky sexual behavior. Historically, the drug has played a role in promoting the HIV epidemic, according to public health experts.
“Meth is a horrible drug,” said Dr. John Carlo, medical director at the Dallas County health department.
Posing as ‘normal guy’
No one knows how many hundreds of pounds of meth Bernabe might have moved through North Texas during the last 41/2 years. And no one knows how many drug dealers Mexican cartels have dispatched to Dallas to pose as a “normal guy” in the neighborhood.
Bernabe lived in a modest wood-frame rent house – valued at $66,000 on the tax rolls – with his wife, Dominga, and their four children. Of course, he could have afforded something much nicer. But the Love Field neighborhood that runs along the western edge of the airport was a perfect place to hide in plain sight.
Police and Love Field-area community leaders estimate that a third of neighborhood residents, like Bernabe, are in the U.S. illegally. They speak only Spanish, which is accepted in the neighborhood. Roosters run free in some yards. Outdoor statues of the Virgin Mary are common. The ever-present roar of jetliners landing and taking off can be deafening.
Federal authorities have charged Bernabe with meth distribution and money laundering. They consider him a flight risk and are holding him in jail without bail. But his wife and children still live in the house on Cortland Avenue a couple of blocks south of a Catholic church and an elementary school.
Agents say Bernabe is not the kind of drug dealer who sold dime bags out of his house.
La Familia manufactures meth in remote laboratories scattered around the state of Michoacán in central Mexico. Bernabe grew up in a rural area around Apatzingan, a city of 100,000 people in Michoacán.
Apatzingan is well-known to drug enforcement agents as a hotbed of drug-dealing activity and a home base of La Familia. Television reports of gunfights between warring cartel factions and between the cartel and police in Apatzingan shocked the nation in 2009. One video showed schoolchildren scrambling under their desks to avoid gunfire.
Authorities believe most of the Michoacán meth arrives in the U.S. hidden in 18-wheelers carrying fruits, vegetables and other products from Mexico.
Bernabe never touched the drugs or kept them at his Love Field house. He used cellphones to direct his operation, ordering subordinates to pick up large quantities (often a pound or more of meth), deliver them to a buyer, collect the cash and then make arrangements to ship the cash back to Mexico, authorities say.
In one case, drug agents allege that a female courier working for Bernabe boarded a bus bound for Michoacán with $157,000 in cash. In another case, drug agents reported finding $107,000 in cash welded into the gas tank of a blue Ford Yukon bound for Mexico.
During a three-year investigation, agents followed Bernabe everywhere he went and electronically monitored his phone calls. They followed him and his family to church at the Cathedral Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe in downtown Dallas. They watched him and his wife – usually driving a 2006 black Chrysler 300 – drop off the kids at Obadiah Knight Elementary School and T.J. Rusk Middle School.
When he played volleyball with friends or visited Lone Star Park for the horse races, agents were there and listening to his phone calls, which were always conducted in Spanish. He never worked a regular job. Investigators identified and arrested 15 subordinates who they say worked for him.
Drug trafficking experts characterize La Familia as a violent organization, but Bernabe was not known to carry a firearm and none was found in his house or in his vehicles when he was arrested, according to court records. No one saw him drink to excess or use drugs.
“My father isn’t just a good father; he’s a very good father,” said Bernabe’s 13-year-old son, the eldest child. “I miss him. I really miss him.”
He said his mother tries to comfort him and his younger siblings. “She says God and the Virgin will send him back,” the son said.
His mother has told him that she is looking for a job now that Bernabe is gone. Although they can’t be sure, federal agents suspect she and the family are living on drug money stashed in a secret hiding place.
Bernabe faces a minimum of 10 years in prison. He has retained the services of Wichita Falls lawyer Robert Estrada, which means he and his family and friends have access to thousands of dollars to pay legal fees. Otherwise, he would have pleaded poverty and relied upon a court-appointed lawyer.
Estrada went to visit Bernabe recently at a federal lock-up in Mansfield.
“I think he’s scared, which is only natural,” Estrada said. “What I can tell you in his favor is that he is a good father and a good husband.”
House no one lived in
Bernabe, who never completed high school in Mexico, wasn’t very good at escaping the notice of federal drug agents. But he tried.
Investigators describe him as unsophisticated and lacking knowledge of U.S. conspiracy laws. He thought he couldn’t be busted if he never touched the drugs and simply directed the actions of his subordinates in La Familia.
In 2008, he bought a typical suburban home – three bedrooms, two baths and an attached two-car garage – on Overglen Drive in Garland. He paid $108,000 in cash for the house but persuaded the seller to keep the property in his name, according to court records. He thought he could stay off the drug enforcement radar screen if he kept his name off property records.
Bernabe also gave people cash to buy cars and trucks to use in his drug-dealing operations, drug agents allege. His name never showed up as owner of several vehicles now in the possession of the DEA.
Bernabe’s closest neighbors on Overglen included a preacher and his wife, a disabled man battling cancer and a cable company technician. None of them knew that no one actually lived at the house.
Before Bernabe bought the house, a 6-foot-tall chain link fence enclosed the back yard. Later, neighbors thought it strange when a 6-foot-tall wood privacy fence popped up just inside the chain link fence. It looked weird.
Bernabe also put up a padlocked gate across his driveway in the alley. Several signs announced Brinks Home Security as the property’s protector. A birdhouse hangs from a tree limb in the front yard.
No one was home when federal agents and Garland police raided the house. Agents confiscated a cellphone, a plastic bag containing “a white powdery substance” and bags of documents and paperwork. The federal government now claims ownership of the house under forfeiture laws designed to take property that drug dealers use for criminal purposes.
More than two months after the raid, some neighbors still were not aware of what had happened at Bernabe’s house.
Nancy Morgan went to work and came home every day with no knowledge that the house three doors down was “a stash house” and not really anyone’s home.
“It really is shocking not to even know,” she said after a reporter told her the story. “It almost makes you want to pack up and leave.”
Ovella Thompson, who is 71 and retired, lives across the street from the Bernabe house. She prefers to put a positive spin on why a drug dealer chose to corrupt her neighborhood.
“This is a quiet neighborhood,” she said. “I believe he chose this street because it’s safe and well-kept and pleasant – a place police would never look.”
‘Cheese,’ not meth
Grauwyler Park, a library and a recreation center anchor the neighborhood west of Love Field. Because children and teens congregate there, drug dealers have plagued the park.
Wilma Avalos, a community activist and homeowner, said her neighborhood is the kind of place where a drug dealer might meet children getting off a school bus in the afternoon. And it’s the kind of place that reveres Our Lady of Perpetual Help, the neighborhood’s big Catholic church.
For several years, Avalos and police officers who patrol the area have focused on stopping the distribution of “cheese,” a form of heroin. Meth really hasn’t popped up as a problem in their neighborhood. They hadn’t heard about the October arrest of Balmer Bernabe on Cortland.
“We have to keep our ears and eyes open and I’m glad this one is gone,” Avalos said when told about Bernabe’s arrest.
Steve Fuentes, a Dallas police officer who spent almost two decades working in the neighborhood, said he understands why Bernabe chose to live on Cortland, a lightly traveled dead-end street lined with modest homes, many with neatly tended lawns.
“Sounds like he was doing the devil’s work,” Fuentes said. “So, he avoids notice in a quiet neighborhood in the center of the city and close to things like the Mexican grocery stores over on Harry Hines. And he doesn’t deal out of his house.”
Still, the question persists: How many Balmer Bernabes are dealing large amounts of recreational Mexican poison in the Dallas area?
“Who knows?” Fuentes said. “How many Tiger Woodses are out there on the pro golf tour?”
Staff writer Diane Solis contributed to this report.
END OF POST/BEGINNING OF PRAYERS