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A Tempest-Tost Book Review

February 12, 2024 (2 min read)

Welcome the Wretched, by Prof. César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández

What do 21 Savage (Shéyaa Bin Abraham-Joseph) and Justin Bieber have in common? At least two things: they are successful pop singers and they are not U.S. citizens.

Bieber is white, Canadian, and (as best we can determine without seeing his passport) able to live, work and travel in and out of the USA by virtue of his O-1 visa, which is a type of temporary work visa.


21 Savage is Black, British by birth, and holds a “green card” - an “immigrant” visa enabling him to live and work in the USA permanently. A green card is also a stepping-stone to American citizenship via naturalization.

In “Welcome the Wretched,” Prof. César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández shows how differently these two artists have been treated by the Department of Homeland Security, specifically ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement.) Despite a plethora of criminal convictions, Bieber has merely been detained for a few hours at the border, while 21 Savage was locked up by ICE until his legal issues were sorted out. It’s not difficult to connect the racial dots.

In a conversational, lyrical and even poetic register, García Hernández explains how U.S. immigration law developed into the punitive tool it is today. Taking his book title from the famous poem by Emma Lazarus, García Hernández shows why our laws and policies so cruelly, and so wrongfully, conflate place of birth with criminality. The book is written for the layperson, but immigration lawyers will be nodding their heads in agreement at every page turn. And despite its litany of tragic examples, the book ends on a note of hope.

The book reminded me of two clients from my own 37-year career as an immigration lawyer. One client was a big, white, tattooed biker, coming into ICE custody after having served a long federal criminal sentence for moving massive amounts of dope. But although my client had a green card, he was not an American citizen. His parents had brought him to America from Germany when he was an infant. At the time, there was nothing I could do for him, so the INS (this was before 2003, when DHS came into being and the INS ceased to exist) deported him to Germany. He did not speak German. He had no friends or relatives in Germany. I hope he landed on his feet.

The other client was Carlos Lavernia, a Cuban from the Mariel boatlift. Carlos was wrongfully convicted of sexual assault and sentenced to 99 years in prison. The Innocence Project exonerated him on DNA evidence, and the State of Texas paid him over $400K in compensation for wrongful imprisonment. After his release from prison, ICE detained Carlos for a while longer. I was part of a team that got Carlos out of ICE custody. Carlos is now an American citizen, and a movie about him is in the works.

In my view, we are not safer because my biker client was deported to Germany. And the State of Texas and the federal government should be ashamed of the way they treated Carlos…and the way they treat most immigrants to this day. “Welcome the Wretched” calls us to examine, deeply, why we insist on ignoring or downplaying criminal behavior by white Americans while demanding non-criminal perfection of immigrants and Americans of color.

Buy the book here.

Learn more about Prof. García Hernández here.

 Copyright 2024 Daniel M. Kowalski, All Rights Reserved Worldwide.