Romanticizing Manual Labor
Aaron Nottage

Arresting People for Not Speaking English

Think fast: What does it mean to "finish up a cook."  Too late: You're under arrest. 

That's what several federal police officers said to Indian immigrants whose English-speaking skills, yet alone knowledge of slang, was imperfect.

When [federal prosecutors] charged 49 convenience store clerks and owners in rural northwest Georgia with selling materials used to make methamphetamine, federal prosecutors declared that they had conclusive evidence. Hidden microphones and cameras, they said, had caught the workers acknowledging that the products would be used to make the drug.

But weeks of court motions have produced many questions. Forty-four of the defendants are Indian immigrants - 32, mostly unrelated, are named Patel - and many spoke little more than the kind of transactional English mocked in sitcoms.

So when a government informant told store clerks that he needed the cold medicine, matches and camping fuel to "finish up a cook," some of them said they figured he must have meant something about barbecue.

The Indian immigrants were being prosecuted under a federal law that prohibits vendors from selling items that they know or should know will be used to cook meth.  I discussed the law here. The enforcement of the law against Indian immigrants is scandalous.  I only knew what "finish up a cook" meant because I've had the (dis)pleasure of learning about meth law.  But how can a 7-11 vendor know? 

What's worse is that the cops used sleazy informants to trick law-abiding businessmen and businesswomen into breaking the law.  It's bad enough that a vendor is under a duty to cross-examine his customers.  Now the vendor must live in fear of being tricked into being thrown into jail, and if convicted, thrown out of the country.