2012-02-15 / Editorial

Faces of immigration


It is easy to classify illegal immigrants as unwanted lawbreakers when you don’t know any of them. And it is easy to say they are taking jobs that American citizens would take if you haven’t worked one of those jobs or lived in parts of the country that depend on immigrant labor.

A two-part series in The Hutchinson News over the weekend puts a human face on the immigration issue in Kansas, (http://hutchnews.com/).

Meet Bertha Mendoza, who came from Mexico legally by being one of the lucky few to get a visa 25 years ago and today is living the American dream, having become a citizen, earned a master’s degree and now working for Kansas State University Research and Extension’s human nutrition program in Garden City.

Most illegal immigrants, Mendoza explains, are "honest, responsible and hard-working people who come to this country in search of the opportunity of a better quality of life for themselves and their families.”

And then meet Jorge Herrera, who, fearing he couldn’t support his new family in Mexico, paid a coyote $400 in 1994 to get his wife and 6-month-old infant son across the border in 1994. Today, he is the patriarch of a mixedstatus family with four younger children, all citizens of the U.S.

He became skilled at concrete work, and his employer promoted him to concrete foreman when he couldn’t find anyone else. Herrera and his wife now are working toward citizenship, and that infant who was strapped to his mother’s back as she made the perilous border crossing wants to be a U.S. Marine.

It is time those who talk tough about cracking down on illegal immigration start thinking about the people involved. These are for the most part hard-working people trying to make a better life, and this country should feel flattered that they want to come here — despite the unwelcoming attitude that greets them.

A place such as Garden City, Kansas, is indeed an oasis to those escaping poverty in Mexico. And a job in construction or meat packing or milking cows is a good job.

The critics will say deport them so those jobs will be available for the many Americans unemployed. Again, easy to say.

But a telephone support call center, once a significant employer in Hays, just announced it is closing because it can’t hire a full work force. That in a community with 3 percent unemployment. Problem is people won’t move to western Kansas.

Yes, forcing out the illegal immigrants probably would force employers to raise wages, and even if that did attract people to move to western Kansas you can bet it would force up consumer costs, such as beef and dairy. In a country that subsidizes agriculture to keep prices down in the supermarket, how much sense does that immigration strategy make now?

It is time to dispense with the rhetoric. It isn’t practical to deport all the illegal immigrants here now. We should improve the system to verify legal status in the workplace, but at the same time we have to create a way for more immigrants to come work here legally. Clearly enough work visas aren’t available.

That is why we have a problem with illegal immigration. That, and this is the land opportunity — or at least it always was.

— The Hutchinson (Kan.) News


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