Taxi rides provide illumination about crisis of immigration

By Bill Decker

Guest columnist

When I read or hear stories about the current immigration crisis on the U.S. southern border, the word "cacophony" frequently comes to mind: an "unpleasant mixture of loud sounds," as one dictionary defines it.

The same dictionary then provides a list of synonyms: bedlam, clash, commotion, salvo, thunder, and uproar.

Many of the refugees on the southern border are Central Americans fleeing from a few Central American countries whose societies have become fractured and whose governments cannot maintain peace and security for many of their people. So people come to America's doorstep.

We Americans and those who represent us in government remain divided and unable to find any kind of common ground that might bring some resolution to this crisis that has had such a long history. On moral and legal grounds, the different sides seem unable to walk in the shoes of their opponents. "Compromise" is made to sound like a curse.

Then, for a moment, a shaft of light illuminates the scene.

My wife and I recently experienced firsthand the fruits of America's desire to welcome immigrants to live within her borders. For us, it happened during rides in a taxi cab.

In mid July, we were set to go to Seattle to be with my wife's brother who had recently lost his wife after her nearly five-year battle with cancer. We called for a taxi.

On the way to O'Hare, we began talking with our driver who was from Nigeria. We asked if he had a family. He said yes, a wife and children. But he added that he was here in America by himself.

He said he received a phone call one morning and the caller had threatened his life. The reason: he is a Christian pastor. At times, our U.S. news outlets report stories of terrible things happening between certain adherents of Islam and followers of Christ in Nigeria. In our driver's case, he was threatened apparently because the caller did not believe that the two faiths should or could coexist in Nigeria. So get out. Or else.

He knew his life was in danger. Tragically, his family could not go with him. His flight to America would be all alone. Now, he will have to wait for his family to be reunited with him at a later time.

On the way back from Seattle, our flight was scheduled to come into O'Hare after midnight. It arrived nearly on schedule; however, there had been backups at the gates due to heavy rain during the weekend and this flight had to wait for a gate to open up. That took 45 or more minutes, and when we finally disembarked from the plane and got our luggage, we hailed another cab and started on our trip home. It was late, 1:30 a.m. or so. In a dark cab, it was hard to see the driver, but we could hear him and knew he had come from another country.

When we got home, my wife mentioned that she could not find her cellphone. It wasn't just the cellphone she lost. The case that covered the phone included pockets which carried credit cards, cash and her driver's license. We called O'Hare Security to let them know in case she had lost her phone there. Monday was spent closing out credit cards and requesting the cellphone carrier to turn off her phone.

On Tuesday - while there had still been no news about the phone's whereabouts - things began to return to a new normal. Then, midday, the doorbell rang. I went to the front door and there stood a man whose first words were, "Do you remember me?" I looked at him and couldn't recollect that I had ever met him.

Then he held up my wife's cellphone and said, "Do you remember this?"

"You're the cabdriver who took us home early Monday morning from O'Hare!" I exclaimed.

He opened the cover of the phone and showed me that all the cards and cash were still there. The phone had returned.

I invited him into our home and asked if I could give him some money for all the trouble he went through to find us and return the phone. He declined.

We left the house and stood outside for a moment, and I asked him his name. It wasn't a name I was familiar with, I asked him its nationality. Nepal, he said. All I could think of, after shaking his hand, was to say "God bless you, sir. God bless you." And off he went.

I didn't mention the Nepali driver's name. He didn't strike me as someone who wanted his name published in print or broadcast over the airwaves. He wasn't looking for fanfare. Apparently, he just wanted to do the right thing.

Have you ever wondered who your neighbor is? These men are my neighbors - and yours, too. The Nigerian pastor is a neighbor who reminds me of all those who are denied the human right to practice and share their faith, a major reality around the globe today. The Nepali man is a neighbor who does the right thing and doesn't ask for anything in return.

The crisis at the U.S. southern border certainly shows that our immigration system is overwhelmed and broken. But at other times, the system seems to work really well. I thank God that this nation has welcomed these two fine gentlemen - and neighbors.

Bill Decker, a writer and musician, lives with his wife Cynthia in Des Plaines.

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