Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Roberto Hernandez (formerly known as Fausto Carmona) received his visa to return to the United States this weekend. From the general reaction we’ve seen in the media, the most noteworthy detail related to his punishment seems to be that Major League Baseball suspended him for three weeks upon his return; Hernandez left a ton of money on the table by restructuring his contract, a penance that both he and the Indians had hoped would be enough to avoid missing more playing time than he already had.
However, the biggest surprise shouldn’t be that Hernandez will miss three extra weeks but that he is able to continue playing at all. That fans and analysts saw Hernandez’ return as a question of when and not a question of if—and worse, that it really did seem to be a matter of when and not if—is a troubling reflection on our society.
When Hernandez applied for a visa the first time, he did not apply as Roberto Hernandez Heredia. He applied as Fausto Carmona, but as we all now know he is not Fausto Carmona. It should be common sense that intentionally providing false information on an official immigration form is a big no-no.
How much trouble could Hernandez have been in? It’s hard to say; NOLO.com assures us that even legal experts (of which I am not) have trouble interpreting immigration code, which is considered “the most convoluted and easily misunderstood portions of all U.S. law.” Yet while there are ways to appeal, a quick search returned several reputable-looking sites agreeing that visa fraud can and likely will result in inadmissibility. “Basically,” James A. Bach writes, “anyone who has made a misrepresentation to the immigration authorities is excluded permanently from the U.S.” (emphasis original).
None of this was really discussed in the media this season as the Indians waited for Hernandez to return to the team—again, it was a question of when, not if. Would such an assumption have been safe if the Roberto Hernandez in question were not a celebrity? If he did not have the resources to go through the waiver process or the support of an MLB team? In a time when immigration is a hot-button issue and many Latino immigrants face at least implicit racism, what chance would an average blue-collar guy have of getting back into the country if he had been discovered living under a false identity?
I know better than to bring politics into a baseball blog, but I don’t think it’s too controversial to say that Hernandez’ status, connections, and resources afforded him an opportunity that most immigrants in his situation would not have enjoyed; even if they have the resources to go through the appeal process, most deportees don’t have MLB teams lobbying on their behalf. All else equal it is entirely possible that he still could have earned a waiver to overcome his inadmissibility, but the when framing of the question of his return reflects his chances were much higher because of his high profile. That’s the way it is for celebrities. Regardless of whether you think he (and other immigrants) should get a second chance—and I am among those who do—I don’t think there’s any doubt that Hernandez had it relatively easy.
Let me be clear: I am not at all accusing any party involved in the legal proceedings of corruption or malpractice, intentional or otherwise. Nor am I unsympathetic to Hernandez’ situation—his actions are to be condemned, but it’s not difficult to understand that he lied only to improve his chances of following his dream. (For those who for this reason might not think ill of Hernandez for his fraud, note that this is the same rationale for taking PEDs. Just food for thought.) But though he deserves a second chance, it’s disconcerting that Hernandez is allowed to start anew while countless other deportees whose faces we do not know are not. Whatever our thoughts on immigration, can’t we agree that it’s wrong to have a double standard?
As a Tribe fan I’m thrilled to have Hernandez back (though the looming roster decision could also create some sticky situations about who can stay and who must go), and it warms my bleeding heart that his mistake did not doom his MLB career. But we would do well to remember when we go to watch Hernandez pitch that the woman taking tickets and the guy selling hot dogs probably would not get the same chance.