The Story of Pedro Zapeta: How the U.S. Government Stole a Happy Home from Guatemala

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(Picture from CNN)

My sister was the first to email me with this CNN story, but since then I have been emailed by several people that are completely enraged by the story of Pedro Zapeta. Janna sent me one of the most heartfelt messages. Her latest post on Zapeta is titled "I no longer feel good about this country". Latina Lista sums up the situation very well in this post. Even my friend at Chromed Curses has come out against this one.
These are just a few of the commentaries on a story that has swept the internet. "Pedro Zapeta" was one of google's most searched terms over the weekend, and by my last count there have already been over 100 blog posts written about him on Someone uploaded the CNN story that sparked this interest on Youtube.

Sadly, the anti-migrant online machine has been at it again. About two-thirds of the messages I've seen say he deserves to be deported and have all of his money taken from him, in harsher terms, obviously.

Pedro Zapeta had worked for 11 years on less than $6 an hour in hopes of one day returning to Guatemala to build a home for his mother and his sisters. He had $59,000 with him when U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement took it all away for failing to fill out the form you need to declare you're carrying more than $10,000. They assumed he was a drug dealer until lawyers went through the pay stubs he meticulously saved to prove he had earned every last cent. He even earned a generous $0.25 raise.

Now the Internal Revenue Service wants not only the $59,000 he's taking back with him, but the $10,000 that have been set up for him in a trust fund by well-wishers who found out about the story last year through CNN or the Palm Beach Post. Now, I'm not expert, but using this federal income tax witholding calculator, assuming Zapeta earned a maximum of $1500 a month, he can't owe more than $25,000 in taxes. That is an amateur rounding up as much as he can, especially considering Zapeta was working on poverty wages and would probably not be taxed at all if he were legal.

I'm not going to use this post to argue about broken, complicated, and unjust immigration laws, I'm not even going to appeal to sympathy. It's clear to me that for anti-migrant advocates, as soon as Zapeta chose to stay in the U.S. illegally (that's a civil offense by the way making it the equivalent of going 60 mph on the freeway) he ceased to be a human being to them. It's not even worth appealing to their sympathy. I won't even mention how hypocritical it is to consume cheaper goods at the same time that you condemn the people that provide them to you.

What I will say is that here you have a man, that a year ago was prepared to leave the Unwelcoming States of America to build a home for his family in what is likely a very poor region in my home of Guatemala. People pay Habitat for Humanity to do this themselves! Not only would he have built a home but the money he was bringing back very likely would have supported more poor Guatemalans, and kept them from leaving in to the U.S. the first place. It was a win-win situation.

Now he's been in the U.S. for another year, wasting countless dollars in the court system and legal fees. Guatemala has not only lost a happy home, the U.S. is wasting tax dollars and what little international political capital it has to take a Guatemalan dishwasher's money and donations. I guess the wars in the Middle East are forcing the U.S. to resort to desperate measures (1 in 2 of Zapeta's dollars would go to the U.S military after all).

I am glad that despite losing all of this, Zapeta has kept his dignity:

Robert Gershman, one of Zapeta's attorneys, said federal prosecutors later offered his client a deal: He could take $10,000 of the original cash seized, plus $9,000 in donations as long as he didn't talk publicly and left the country immediately.

Zapeta said, "No." He wanted all his money. He'd earned it, he said.
If anyone is interested in helping Pedro Zapeta out, I'm told that a trust fund has been set up for him. Send checks to Robert Gershman's office.

1675 Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard
Seventh Floor
West Palm Beach, FL 33401
I'm sure they'll gladly sift through all the migrant hate mail they'll receive for your support.


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Jenny said:

Check out the great immigration rights song ZAPETA at

janna Author Profile Page said:

Jenny, thanks for the link. That is a sweet, sad song.

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This page contains a single entry by kyledeb published on October 1, 2007 3:59 PM.

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