DALLAS TWP. — “We’re the McCracken family,” Kevin Matlon told the “banker,” who paused only briefly to ponder the odd surname from a man wearing a tag claiming he was from “Korea.”
“We’re Korean Irish,” Matlon explained, straight-faced.
Matlon was one of about 150 students who participated in an “immigration simulation” Tuesday at Misericordia University. Students were grouped into families and given a country of origin, then required to borrow money and go to work.
The most available job was picking beans, in this case literally taking them off the floor one at a time. They quickly learned the pay didn’t cover debts, rent and food and had to decide if they wanted to work in a border city factory or save enough to have a “coyote” smuggle them to the United States.
“The purpose of this is to show that the 11 million undocumented people we have in this country often come for economic reasons,” Director of Campus Ministry Chris Somers said. “They are not making a lot of money picking beans or working in their country, so they are trying to get close to the United States to make decent money.”
Matlon, of the Korean McCrackens, only picked one cup of beans before opting to work in the “Wally Dot” factory along the border. This entailed filling in a sheet full of dots, earning 500 “MUs” a sheet (the exchange rate was 10 MUs per $1 U.S).
“We fill out six of these,” the sophomore from Whippany, N.J., calculated. “And we have enough to migrate to the U.S.” That meant one Wally Dot shift for each of five family members, plus a spare.
The Yu family of Vietnam opted for a quicker route: After earning enough in the factory to send two over the border, Max Melito and Logan LaRochelle — both freshmen in real life — became the first in the room to approach the “Coyote” and ask to be smuggled into the U.S.
Smuggling was done mostly on credit, but it took so long to get in, the duo decided to offer an extra $50 to expedite the transaction. And yes, there was a “wall” to get past — or, at least, a set of thigh-high partitions under which they had to actually crawl.
The Yu two went to work in a meat factory where the employer seemed to speak gibberish, the toil entailed writing “I love my job at the meat packing plant” over and over and the pay proved capricious (Melito got $100 his first day, LaRochelle got $150.)
Lights went out at night, workers were repeatedly prodded to “eat” (spend money on food) and found it difficult to leave debts behind. Melito and LaRochelle may have been the first to get to the U.S., but LaRochelle was also among the first to get deported for failing to pay a bank loan — at an exorbitant 20 percent interest — incurred at the very start of the simulation.
The whole thing was part of Misericordia’s “Mercy Week,” with daily activities that this year focused on various aspects of immigration.
And yes, the McCrackens did eventually get into the U.S. where they promptly went to work in the meat plant.
“We heard about it in class and decided to try it,” Matlon, a physical therapy major, explained when asked why he participated.
And the results?
“It’s really eye-opening!”
Reach Mark Guydish at 570-991-6112 or on Twitter @TLMarkGuydish