Immigration: A personal view

I used to think the most divisive issue in our nation was abortion. I used to wonder, should the Supreme Court ever overturn Roe v. Wade, whether we would become a nation of pro and anti abortion states, like the days of slavery, with underground railroads transporting women to states where abortion remained legal.

That’s what I used to think until President Bush and the Senate brought forth a reform package designed to, once and for all, resolve the illegal immigration problem. Instead, no one is happy. Conservatives claim the reform package amounts to amnesty, and activists across the country are hopping mad.

The maelstrom that has ensued has convinced me that illegal immigration is more divisive than abortion, maybe even more divisive than the war in Iraq, and may result in the destruction of the Republican Party. Like the Whigs of 1854, incensed over their party’s betrayal of the 1850 slavery compromise, Republicans are turning in their party credentials and registering as Independents in droves. After finding the door to the Portland office of Gordon Smith locked when he went down to discuss the proposal, my friend Jim, a longtime Republican activist, resigned as a precinct committee person and re-registered.

My company’s new office building is located in an Hispanic enclave. Right off Highway 99 in old downtown Tigard, we are surrounded by low-rent apartments and a smattering of Mexican restaurants and lottery retailers. The children riding their bicycles in the parking lot connecting our building and the nearby shopping center are nearly all Hispanic, as are the high schoolers walking through to the school bus stop. The little ones are friendly, but the older ones for the most part avoid any eye contact as they pass by in baggy cargo pants and hooded sweatshirts. Some of them are scary, and you can’t help but wonder if there are weapons in those voluminous pockets. Adults walking in groups speak Spanish as do their kids when they are with them. When the kids are by themselves, they tend toward English.

It wasn’t surprising that the first qualified applicant to lease our extra space was an Hispanic couple, Bernardo and Lety. They wanted to use the space for a hair salon.

Lety is a licensed hairdresser and Bernardo works for Owens-Corning. They provided our leasing agent with tax returns and bank account information. We agreed to a fixed monthly rental rate with the provision that they pay for any improvements to the space.

When we first met them, Bernardo’s English was very rough, Lety’s non-existent. I’d had a total of three years of Spanish language instruction 30 years ago and a certain amount of immersion when playing soccer with three guys from South America in 1972. Between Bernardo’s broken English and my broken Spanish we were able to come to a deal.

The first bump in the road came when we tried to add a sink for the salon. We had thought we could plumb their sink into the drain line for the sink in our break room, just on the opposite side of the wall. The city inspector, however, deemed that two sinks would require a larger drain line, necessitating pulling up the floor and jack hammering out the building’s slab. It would have been $2,000 if it was a nickel, and money that Bernardo and Lety didn’t have. In a NAFTA-esque act of cultural compromise, we decided to remove the sink in the break room so the salon’s sink would be the only one on the line. The city inspector gave us a thumbs up. Bernardo and I shook hands on the deal, and they proceeded to set up shop.

It became evident immediately that we couldn’t have hoped for better tenants. They fixed the space up beautifully. They pay their rent promptly. Lety arrives around 10 in the morning. Bernardo brings her lunch and comes back at dinnertime. They keep the salon open seven days a week.

Lety and I began exchanging buenas dias and como estas in the break room. Through a combination of sign language and bad Spanish I scheduled my first haircut with her. During the haircut I was able to tell her that I had a grey cat (tengo un gato gris) and two sons (dos hijos). We turned the haircut into a remedial language lesson for the both of us. Spanish for me and English for her. I ordered matching Spanish/English dictionaries and phrasebooks for both of us, and I got into the habit of dropping in for a quick chat when she was between customers. When our words become completely incomprehensible to one another I revert to a catch phrase from the Spanish book:

“El pez esta nadando.” (The fish is swimming.)

Then we both laugh.

Lety is building a Spanish-speaking clientele. Her signs are in Spanish. Her posters are in Spanish. Her magazines are in Spanish. Her television is either tuned in to Spanish language programs or displays Spanish subtitles. And if the statistics are right, at least half of her customers, probably more, are in this country illegally.

One day when I was going to guest-host on Jayne Carroll’s radio show, I told Lety to tune in to listen to me. When she asked me what I talked about I replied, “cosas politicas” (political things). She then asked me what I thought about the war and what I thought about immigration. The topic of immigration sparked a lively conversation with not only Lety but also two women sitting with her in the shop. Through bits and pieces of fractured English and my limited Spanish I learned that they are as sour on the immigration bill as are most disaffected Republicans. Interestingly, their concerns echo those of most conservatives:

– No reform will work unless the borders are sealed, and
– Persons here illegally will not voluntarily come forward to pay $1,000 for a work permit, let alone $5,000 for a green card.

“Cinco meses renta,” Lety said, to put the $5,000 into perspective. Five months rent.

My son, who is a cook and works in predominantly Hispanic kitchen environments, is in agreement:

“They live five and six to a house,” he said. “They share food and rent, and the rest of the money goes home to Mama.”

The President says illegals are here to do the jobs Americans won’t do. He says allowing them to remain here by paying money is not amnesty. Seems to me illegals are here doing jobs Americans used to do, but won’t for the wages that the illegals will. And paying money to remain here after breaking the law to be here is amnesty. I’m pretty sure Lety thinks so too.

Bernardo and Lety won’t need $5,000 to stay here, but if they did, I’d lend it to them in a heartbeat. They’re working hard to build a life here, and I want them to stay. But the guys living five and six to a house and sending the money home to Mama should go home to Mama.

But what the heck do I know? I’m just an Eastside Guy.

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Posted by at 07:55 | Posted in Measure 37 | 9 Comments |Email This Post Email This Post |Print This Post Print This Post
  • iop

    Immigartion is becomming divisive…unecessarily so. What fuesl the fire is the lack of leadership in Congress. The DC guys are using the flames to roast marshmellows instead of actually putting otu the fire. Hello.

  • Rick Hickey

    I thought I wasn’t the only person watching this flood of people change our Schools, Health Care and flooding our Jails, a long time ago. After being called Racist, Zenophobe and a crazy right wing nut job for years, I am happy that the others have caught up to reality.

    I am glad that everyone else is finally paying attention to this issue.
    Possesion IS 9/10ths of the law & reality, ask the English speakers of L.A. what has happened to their City.

    NOW Protest with us against Mayor Potter-Wed. the 20th @ City Hall @ 9:30 am-their mtg. will be happening as well and discussion of wasting $200,000.00 of YOUR Money on Day Labor Center may be ocurring.

    • iop

      What is the Day Labor Center, $200.000.00 about?

  • Bob Bennett

    It amazes me how long it has taken people to wake up to this issue. If Richard Lamm hadn’t been cut off at the knees by Ross Perot in 1996, I think one of the dominate parties would have fallen at that time. If the Jon Testor wing of the Democratic party prevails, it will be the Republicans to go, but if not, the Republican party will split into the two dominate parties and the Dems will go.

  • je

    Dave Lister expresses well the conflicting currents relating to illegal immigration. There is an individual human component to this issue, nobody wants to be unnecessarily cruel. Americans want to recognize individual worth.

    But how to balance that compassionate impulse with the reality of an illegal alien invasion?

    The hallmark of America has been a continuing path of recognizing the individual (possibly wishful thinking on my part), yet immigration policy must by necessity deal with groups and large numbers.

    My priority is with American citizens, not foreign nationals. In order to insure that the welfare of American citizens is first and not second, illegal aliens must be treated as a group, not individually because if illegal aliens are given amnesty as proposed, American citizens individual rights will be negitively affected. That result is simply unacceptable.

    So while I do respect the compassion Dave expresses, the balance on my scales weighs heavily toward Americans and while seemly cruel at times, ultimately an enforcement first with no amnesty is the only policy which will protect individual rights of Americans through the rule of law, sovereignty, and a robust citizenship which has meaning and worth which is beyound price.

    Compassion and respect will ultimately be held higher for Americans if we deal firmly with the illegal alien invasion now.

    The Senate immigration bill is a recipe for a brave new world where the only value a human life would have in America is how much money one has, and that would be the cruelest America of all.

    Money can’t be the final measure if we are to maitain and expand our democratic and moral values which are the true expression of America’s greatness.

  • Rick Hickey

    Instead of the Illegals standing on a street corner in the rain getting “harassed” on occasion.
    WE will build them a “special” place to hide out until someone comes to hire them and laugh at silly laws such as Liability or Workers Comp and probably have “Free” Medical care and “Education” oppurtunities also.

  • Harry

    Dave Lister is quoted in the Portland Tribune:
    ““I know a lot of Republicans who have re-registered as independents over this immigration reform,” said Lister, who lost a bid to the Portland City Council last year and told the Portland Tribune this week that he’s thinking about running for mayor next year. He said he’s even thought of switching parties as a result of his thoughts on immigration.”

    Interesting quote. Switching parties from Republican to NAV? Or maybe Dem? Sure would help that mayor election bid. Have you been talking to Sen. Westlund? Would you describe yourself as a RINO today, with Indy tendencies tomorrow? Or maybe just a conservative Democrat?


    • Dave Lister


      Bush is for amnesty and the Republican controlled congress went hog wild with pork and ran the deficit out of sight. Those are not my Republican values.

      My social views are Libertarian. My fiscal views are Republican, but they are no longer represented by the party.

      Am I a RINO? No. But Bush is. Gordon Smith is. The Republican Congressmen advocating for amnesty are.

      Would I be leaving the party, or has the party left me?

      If I make a switch it will be to non-affiliated.


    Hey, my opinion on the immigration bust at Del Monte were in the Oreginian on Thurday, very first post on the opinion page!

    Anyway, have a great weekend!

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