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Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

Odd Birds

State of the Union: Why I’m not surprised that three teenage refugees from Myanmar would kill and eat a park swan in New York.

Cute,Young,Boy,Feeding,The,Ducks,Late,In,The,Afternoon
(Keith Publicover/Shutterstock)

Readers of this magazine might already know that I grew up in Orange County, California, which comes with what one might expect: nice weather, exorbitant taxes, beach days, a high cost of living, and a sizable immigrant population, legal and illegal, from south of the border.

Like all suburban neighborhoods, the local park was a hub for families—a few acres of greenery in a sprawling concrete landscape. My family was no different; we’d frequent the park regularly. My little brother and sister would spend countless hours depleting their nearly boundless energy on the playground, tossing around a pigskin with other children on the park lawn, and all sorts of other good, kid things. Once they were all tuckered out, we always made sure to bring a few pieces of bread—the heels or whatever was about to go stale—to feed the ducks at the park's pond. It wasn’t much of a pond: small, poorly kept, trash usually lined the bank. Every once and a while, there was a teen or grandfather fishing to pass the time while their siblings or grandchildren ran amok.

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When you feed the park ducks, all it takes is the sight of the plastic bread bag for them to flock to the water’s edge. Some of them were nasty, gnarled things with a temperament to match, but there were never any problems.

A few years back around Thanksgiving, we were feeding the ducks when, across the pond, a Hispanic family started feeding the ducks too. We paid them no mind—Hispanic families are all over Southern California. 

But we started paying closer attention when most of the members backed away from the water’s edge and began to crouch. Then, one of the family members, by the looks of it a teenage boy, started luring one large, white duck away from the others by dropping bits of food in a line. He led the duck out of the water and up the grassy bank. My father said something to the effect of “no way; they’re not going to…” As I replied “do what?” the family sprung their trap. Those crouched nearest to the water encircled the duck, yelling at each other in Spanish. As the duck turned, a middle-aged male family member, likely the father, pounced on the duck from behind with a bedsheet. 

The duck quacked and flailed about under the bedsheet as the man scooped it up and tied the sheet with a knot. He proceeded to swing the bagged duck over his head and smack it on the ground, either dazing the duck or killing it right then and there. Then, he flung it back over his shoulder and the family walked off to their white minivan with a missing bumper and stuffed the duck they’d be cooking up for dinner in the boot.

“Did that really just happen?” my father said. “What are they going to do with the duck, Daddy?” My little brother asked. My little sister, smart for her age and too smart for her own good, replied, “they’re probably going to kill it, if it isn’t dead already, and eat it.”

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Since, I’ve paid a bit more attention to some of our newer community members’ behavior in neighborhood parks. I’ve learned that while the water looks gross, pond fish must be fine for eating and any and all tactics can be employed to catch them. Furthermore, public fountains, whether at parks or other public places, double as community swimming pools and are a great way to beat the heat.

Through the process of “better educating” myself on my community’s diversity, I now find it completely unsurprising that three teens, refugees from Myanmar, would kill and eat a park swan in New York.

I’m not overly familiar about the local or state codes that would regulate these kinds of behavior. I find it hard to believe they aren’t illegal in some way. But what I do know is that these aren’t crimes of poverty. The hispanic family at the park was, trust me, far from starving. And the teenage refugees from Myanmar, because of their refugee status, has the U.S. government and a constellation of international governmental and charity organizations looking out for their wellbeing.

Rather, they’re crimes of convenience. Why pay the grocer or butcher for duck when you can get them for free at the park? Park pond fish, used to getting fed by local children, will eat anything. Fishing there might actually be easier than shooting fish in a barrel.

As all of American history might tell you, and President Joe Biden's administration has made especially clear, unfettered illegal and legal immigration has serious consequences. We talk about the problems it creates at the national level regularly, whether its national security concerns, wage depression, strains to social services and the safety net, or simple public accounting—to have a country, you need to have borders, but you also need to know how many people actually live within them. These are worthwhile conversations and provide a clear, federal impetus for immigration restrictionism.

By focusing on these national issues, however, we often understate runaway immigration’s effect at the community level. Your kids seeing a duck rounded up and thwacked to the ground at the park is a much more tangible consequence of our current immigration regime for the everyday American than the extra buck or two the invisible hand has taken from them because the U.S. has imported so many laborers. 

And might I be so bold to suggest that hunting the local park ducks might not be among the most egregious crimes our new neighbors might be committing?

As our communities have less and less in common, the commons increasingly suffers.