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Residents say immigration fix needed

June 17, 2007|by ERIN CUNNINGHAM

TRI-STATE - Working in construction, David Smith says it happens every day.

His company constantly is outbid by those employing illegal immigrants. Those workers are paid less, he said, and those companies will get the jobs every time.

"They come over here and take American jobs," said Smith, of Hagerstown. "It's not right."

Smith was one of many Tri-State-area residents interviewed recently who said illegal immigration is a problem in the United States. Whether recently revived immigration legislation is the solution was undecided.

Many of those interviewed said they liked parts of the bill, such as the increased border security. Others said they wanted to ensure that immigrants paid taxes and spoke English.

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U.S. Senate leaders said Thursday they plan to begin discussing immigration legislation as early as this week, according to The Associated Press. The legislation offers strengthened border security and grants legal status to the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants living in the U.S.

Linda Rojahn of Hagerstown described immigration as a "hot-button issue."

She said the problems the country now faces have a lot to do with failed attempts in the past to control the influx of illegals.

"The original bill in the 1980s made things worse," Rojahn said. "They granted amnesty the first time around. This bill they have now is not going to do anything. It's just going to repeat the same mistakes."

She suggested legislation that would make Mexico stronger.

"I have empathy for these people," Rojahn said. "I really do."

She suggested that there is a link between the desire for corporations to employ cheap labor and politicians, saying it is the corporations that are responsible for large campaign contributions.

"The whole system needs to be changed, really," Rojahn said.

Lana Durning of Greencastle, Pa., and her husband, Michael Durning, said they have mixed feelings, but do believe those living in the country illegally should pay taxes.

"They don't have to pay the taxes, but they still get the benefits," Lana Durning said.

If legislation is passed allowing the immigrants to continue living here, the Durnings said they should learn English and pay taxes.

"I really believe we have to be responsible for everybody here in the country," said Dr. Stephen Overcash of Chambersburg, Pa. "With the exception of the 12 million who came here illegally, the rest came here through normal channels."

"The first thing we need to do is close off the obviously very porous border we have," Overcash said. People in the country illegally then should be identified, deported and allowed to return by normal immigration channels, he said.

Overcash said he is concerned about criminals and possible terrorist infiltrators among illegal aliens who pose a threat to public safety and national security.

"I don't have a problem with the concept, but I'm severely concerned about where the money is coming from," said Sarah Page of Chambersburg. "In my opinion, we're not doing a good enough job of taking care of our own citizens."

Richard Wassil of Fayetteville, Pa., said securing the borders is a good idea, but appears impractical.

"It's too big," he said. "They don't have the manpower or the money."

Eric Smith of Hagerstown said he is in favor of increased security at the borders, referring to the immigration reform legislation.

He and his girlfriend, Amber Anderson of Hagerstown, said illegal immigrants should be forced to pay taxes.

Anderson also said she is concerned that immigrants might be taking jobs from American workers.

Ruby Cohall of Hagers- town said she is in favor of increased border security.

She also has concerns about the wages paid to illegal immigrants, saying they are willing to work for far less than American workers.

"I'm not saying I don't want them here," Cohall said. "You need to be here legally."

Staff writer Don Aines and the Associated Press contributed to this story.

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