Area residents weigh in on immigration and Bush plan

May 16, 2006|by TIFFANY ARNOLD


President Bush's plan to reform the nation's immigration system drew uneven support from Tri-State residents Monday, but most agreed that the current state of immigration was unacceptable.

Bush outlined his stance on immigration during a nationally televised speech Monday night.

Among other things, Bush advocated sending 6,000 National Guard troops to help patrol the U.S.-Mexico border. He also proposed what he thought would create a happy medium between mass deportation and granting blanket amnesty to those living illegally in the United States.

The debate over immigration in the Tri-State area has become an emotional issue as more and more foreign-born residents move to the region.


Foreign-born residents make up a little less than 2 percent of the 75,905 people living in Washington County, according to the most recent U.S. Census data. Nearly half of the 1,288 foreign-born residents aren't considered U.S. citizens, according to data.

Daphne Hernandez, 21, of Hagerstown, said she thought making the path to citizenship easier for would-be Americans would discourage dangerous smuggling and would decrease the number of illegal immigrants.

"It's easy to come from, say, Europe, but it's harder to come from our own neighboring country? I definitely think they should make it easier so that they don't have to do it illegally," Hernandez said.

Donna Maines, 25, of Hagerstown, did not share the same view.

"I don't like them coming here," Maines said, referring to illegal immigrants. "I think they should stay in their own country. If they wanted to come here, that's fine, but do it legally."

Sila Alegret-Bartel, chair of the Maryland Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said that people inappropriately view the Hispanic population.

"... we are more than one race, we come from many different backgrounds," Bartel said.

The Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, which represents 250 Hispanic business owners in Washington, Frederick and Montgomery counties, has endorsed several of the proposed changes to the immigration system, Bartel said.

Local businesses have come to rely on the labor provided by migrant workers, who often accept low wages that Washington County residents won't, said Henry Allenberg, owner of Allenberg Orchards near Smithsburg.

Allenberg said migrant workers who come to Washington County through a guest worker program comprise half of his work force during peak harvest season.

"We haven't been able to get local help for decades," Allenberg said.

One Washington County resident was not convinced that the U.S. has ample resources to send additional troops to bolster patrols along the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border.

"We have so many people in Afghanistan and Iraq that I'm not sure we have the capability," said Larry Iseminger, 52, of Funkstown.

In West Virginia ...

Bush's announcement drew a pragmatic response from regulars at the King Street Coffee and Tobacco Emporium in downtown Martinsburg.

Chris Watson, 35, of Martinsburg, called attempts to seal the border with troops a short-term solution that would fail to address the real problem of illegal immigration by Mexicans.

"There's too much money in illegal immigration," Watson said. "There's too many businesses that don't want it stopped. You have to take the money out of it. It's got to quit being profitable for businesses to hire illegals."

Mike Bradley, 43, agreed, calling the deployment of National Guard troops a necessary evil.

"I think it's a good idea. I think it's got to be stopped," he said.

Lawmakers have raised objections to Bush's proposal, saying it stretches the National Guard to a breaking point, but Bradley dismissed their concerns as a smoke screen.

"If (sending troops to secure the United States border with Mexico) doesn't qualify for national defense, what would?" Bradley asked.

West Virginia National Guard units are prepared to do whatever mission they're asked to perform, Maj. Gen. Allen Tackett said.

Tackett said he has not yet received any word about a mission to the Mexican border.

"All I've heard is what's been on the news," Tackett said.

In Pennsylvania ...

Rather than sending National Guard troops to the Mexican border, the United States should focus on illegal immigrants already in this country, said Bruce Callahan, 50, of Blue Ridge Summit, Pa.

Glen Callahan, 54, of Massachusetts, agreed.

"They should go if they're illegal," he said.

"Illegal is illegal," Bruce Callahan said.

Sending troops to the border "is a great idea ... because people need to be in this country legally," said Barry Sonne, 43, of Waynesboro, Pa. "I don't have a problem with people coming legally."

"I lived in Texas. (Border patrol) definitely is needed," said Anita Powell, 36, of Waynesboro.

Staff writers Robert Snyder and Jennifer Fitch contributed to this story.

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