“Traddutore, traditore”

The title above is an Italian phrase I picked up years ago. It means “the translator is a traitor,” and comes from the study of literature. It means that when considering literature, you should always judge it in its original language, and not on a translation, because no translation is perfect at capturing all the nuances and subtleties and meanings that the author placed in the original work, (presumably) in his native tongue.

The phrase itself is a fine example. In Italian, the similarities of the two words forms a sort of wordplay, strongly suggests a relationship between them, and even hints at the interchangability of the two terms and concepts. In English, it comes across as a piece of cheesy dialogue from a bad war or spy movie.

In the last few years, I’ve taken that concept and expanded it in a way that I’m sure the originator never intended. And that is in the area of illegal aliens.

So many illegal aliens in the United States speak English — the de facto common tongue — very poorly, if at all. As such, in order to get along, they often need the services of a translator to conduct their business. They might have a friend or relative willing to help out, hire someone, or simply choose to do business with those who speak their language.

And therein lies the danger.

Unscrupulous or inept translators can get the illegal alien in a lot of trouble — especially when English documents are being signed.

A prime example of that is being uncovered in Massachusetts. Seven mortgage brokers have been shut down by state officials for allegedly deceiving and exploiting mortgage applicants, submitting fraudulent paperwork, and in general thoroughly screwing over their clients. And the common element here: the applicants spoke little or no English, and relied on the brokers to properly explain the forms and applications — which were written in English.

I have long believed that one should not travel to a country where one cannot manage at least the rudiments of the most common language, and certainly never move there. It’s not just a matter of common courtesy, but of simple survival.

Let’s be perfectly blunt here. A good chunk of these ripped-off borrowers are from Lawrence, Massachusetts. I know a little about Lawrence, and the primary (if not only) language of many Lawrence residents is Spanish. These people are signing loan applications, loan agreements, financial statements, and scads of other official forms and paperwork written in English — and they are relying on the other party to explain to them fully and honestly just what those papers say. And in far too many cases, their translator is indeed a traitor to their best interests.

And once they’re on the hook, they’re well and truly screwed. Since so many of them are here illegally, they don’t dare go to authorities and complain. Hence, they often either work their asses off to live up to the deal they signed, or they accept the penalties and write off all they invested to that point.

What a great thing this is. Unscrupulous Americans have found yet another way to exploit and abuse people who came to this country, use them up, and then discard them and move on to new victims. That went out of style with the Emancipation Proclamation, came back briefly with the Chinese laborers around the turn of the 19th century, and now is making another return with the illegal aliens today.

This is why we need real, comprehensive immigration reform. We need to dry up the supply of these ready-made victims by cracking down — hard — on border security. We need to seriously crank up the penalties on those who hire, shelter, and exploit illegal aliens. And we need to streamline the legal immigration process, making it a far more palatable alternative to simply jumping across the border or overstaying a visa.

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