Archive for July, 2008

Saving Joey

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One afternoon there was a discreet knocking on the kitchen door which was the main entry to our cold water flat on 6th Avenue and Prince Street (see the Mama Savarese post). When I opened the door standing there was a most unusual looking man for that neighborhood. He was wearing a suit, with tie, hat and carrying an attaché case – definitely not someone from around there. He said he was from the Immigration Service (I don’t remember if they were called INS in those days) and asked if I knew the Savareses who lived on my floor at the rear of the building. I told him only to say good morning to in the hallway, no other contact.

Although I number three former deputy sheriffs among my friends (two retired and one who quit because he couldn’t bear the contempt of his townsmen), I generally hold cops of all sorts, both institutionally and individually, in low regard. It is my feeling that anyone who wants to be one has something wrong with his head, either intellectually or psychologically or, most often, some of both. Immigration cops seem to me to be the meanest spirited of the lot providing fresh assaults on one’s sense of fair play nearly every day. (I know, I know, they’re just doing their jobs – that was Eichman’s defense too – also see how this tale turns out.) When the agent asked if he could come in and talk to me about a critical matter I became alarmed for the Savareses, so I invited him in.

He told me that the Savarese family, parents and several children, had entered the U.S. legally in 1935 as refugees from the Mussolini fascists. One of the sons, Giuseppe, known as Joey, entered illegally a couple of years later when he was in the Italian merchant marine and jumped ship in New York. He said Immigration had been looking for Joey for years and had never been able to find where the local Italians had been hiding him (It’s remarkable how immigrant communities are able to do this so well. An immigration cop once said the Chinese in San Francisco’s Chinatown could hide an elephant there completely undetected.) Then he said that the immigration cops thought that Giuseppe was about to flee to Canada where the local Italians had several safe-houses and that if he re-entered the U.S., again illegally, from there he would be guilty of a felony and that they, nice guys that they were, were only trying to prevent him from getting into worse trouble. I am embarrassed to say that I mostly bought this line. I told the cop I would tell the family about his visit.

I became quite alarmed for the Savareses. I didn’t know if they could handle English well enough or had enough education to understand the intricacies of immigration law, whether they knew about possible legal assistance available to them and so on.

I kept an ear cocked for Papa Savarese’s return from work. He was very punctual, arriving at 5:30 in the afternoon, tip-toeing up the stairs and quietly opening and closing the door to their flat, which made it difficult to know when he had arrived. On many occasions he was accompanied by one of his sons who worked with him in the family business. They made an amusing pair, almost indistinguishable in appearance, more like identical twins than father and son. They were small, perhaps 5-4 in height, slim and nattily attired in expensive Italian suits (despite my remark in the first paragraph about the rarity of such attire in our neighborhood) and expensive “Italian” shoes which were made in their own factory further east on Houston Street. On the evening in question the son was with his father. I went out to the landing just in front of their flat and told them about the immigration cop being there. The son said he would stop by later and talk to me about the whole situation.

I recounted the immigration agent’s story about Giuseppe, the illegal entry, the Canadian safe-houses, the felony re-entry and so on. As I did so the son asked me several pointed questions, sounding almost like a D.A. getting my testimony. When I was through he told me that Joey had indeed entered fourteen years before by jumping ship, that immigration had been pursuing him fruitlessly all that time, that he was at the time right in New York where they would never find him and that their second-generation Italian Congressman was presenting a private bill the next morning to grant Joey legal status. He further said that this was driving the cops insane and that they were trying, right up to the last minute to grab Giuseppe and throw him out of the country. Talk about rat-terrier dispositions! And nasty, vengeful and mean natures!

And that was how the smart college boy helped the poor New York Italian deal with his government.

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