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Elected officials discuss illegal immigration in Worthington again

WORTHINGTON -- For the third time in a month, Worthington played host to political leaders seeking information on the impact illegal immigration has had on the community.

Nearly 30 people, including local law enforcement officials and business and community leaders, gathered at the Nobles County Government Center Thursday morning for a listening session with Republican congressmen Gil Gutknecht, of Minnesota's 1st District, and Steve King, of Iowa's 5th District.

The meeting was intended to give King, a member of the House Judiciary Committee on Immigration, Border Security and Claims, specific examples of a so-called "underground" of second-class citizens developing because of federal laws that do nothing to stem the tide of illegal aliens living and working in the U.S.

Flanked by Worthington Mayor Alan Oberloh and State Sen. Jim Vickerman, DFL-Tracy, King pledged to uphold the rule of the law, going so far as to say the U.S. should do away with birthright legislation that for more than a century has allowed children of illegal immigrants born in the U.S. to automatically become American citizens. Gutknecht also voiced support for such a movement.

Other ideas King offered included closing off the job magnet that lures so many undocumented immigrants across the border, penalizing employers who hire illegal aliens, establishing a federal employment verification program and constructing a 700-mile-long fence along the southern U.S. border.

King likened patrolling the southern border to searching human haystacks, whereby stopping illegals who are criminals is like finding a needle in a haystack.

"In the 2004 calendar year, 1,159,000 illegal entrants were stopped at the border," he said, adding that border patrol estimates those stopped are roughly one-third to one-fourth of the number of illegal aliens who actually cross.

"I've been discouraged that we have an administration that is not willing to enforce the laws," said King.

In reality, illegal aliens have created a virtual Catch-22 -- an estimated 90 percent contribute to society and help boost America's economy, but that is offset by the 10 percent who are involved in illegal activities such as identity theft, document vending and victimizing individuals.

Illegals and the law

Displaying a sealed plastic baggie filled with seized driver's licenses and social security cards, Worthington Police Sgt. Kevin Flynn described the difficulties law enforcement officers face when undocumented immigrants use false identities.

"What we have the hardest time dealing with is not knowing who, across the table, we are dealing with," said Flynn. Also, he said those who possess false documents are more apt not to fear involvement in criminal activity.

In addition to the problems stemming from those who carry false documents, Flynn has witnessed a boom in document vendors who supply illegal immigrants with everything from birth certificates to Social Security cards. In Worthington, one woman was found selling birth certificates and Social Security cards for $1,200 to $1,500 out of her home, and even offered clothing and furniture to her customers to help them get their start in America.

"People need papers in order to be employed," said Flynn. "Birth certificates and Social Security cards have become a more significant business than you can imagine."

The business has led document vendors to commit other crimes, including extorting money from their customers by threatening to turn them in for deportation.

"There are no state statutes regarding document vending in Minnesota," Flynn added.

In addition to crimes related to illegal documentation, Flynn discussed the use of undocumented immigrants by organized crime to "mule" the drug, methamphetamine, to the Midwest. Today, an estimated 80 to 85 percent of the meth supply comes from south of the border, he added.

Raising the bar

Thursday's meeting wasn't just to share stories of the impact illegal immigration has had on communities like Worthington, but to give local leaders an opportunity to ask questions and provide input.

"We want to find a way that people can work and be who they are -- and not live underground," said Oberloh.

One suggestion offered was to develop a program in which employers could verify people are who they say they are, based on their Social Security number. As illegal aliens continue to use stolen Social Security numbers, all employers can do is make sure the number is valid. They have no way of finding out if someone else is already using that same card.

"How do we get something in place for those who want to work -- who want to be here?" asked Flynn.

Worthington Director of Public Safety Mike Cumiskey said he'd be in favor of developing "some kind of worker program" to document illegal aliens so they wouldn't fear deportation or fall victim to scams and extortion.

"Swift does need the 90 percent of people who aren't causing trouble," Cumiskey added. "We just want to see change. We want to see people be able to work here."

Mariano Espinoza, of the Minneapolis-based Minnesota Immigrant Freedom Network, said he too wants to see illegal immigrants able to live and work in the U.S.

"We have millions of people here working," he said, adding that employers need workers, but there are no legal venues to bring them in with only 5,000 visas issued in the country.

"When are we going to have a guest worker program?" Espinoza questioned. "When are we going to have a way for people to become legal?"

In contrast, King talked of a survey completed in his district that asked constituents how strongly, on a scale of 1 to 10, they felt about elimination of illegal immigration and reducing the amount of legal immigration.

"Eighty-two percent wrote down a 10," said King, adding that those who rated the question as eight or above accounted for 97 percent of the responses.

As communities like Worthington deal with illegal immigration issues, King said those who flee Mexico for jobs in the U.S. make up that country's second largest cash crop.

Vincente Fox, president of Mexico, receives a reported $20 billion each year for leaving his side of the border open for residents to cross over to the U.S.

"Twenty billion dollars a year means more to him in the short-term than not having any citizens left in the long-term," said King.

Both King and Gutknecht agreed that the first step in curbing illegal immigration is to increase America's strength at the border.

"We have to stop the bleeding," said Gutknecht.

"If you think we've got the magic answer, we don't," he continued, saying that the federal government doesn't even know what to do with the 65 percent of Gulf Coast residents who continue to live in trailers following Hurricane Katrina.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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