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Immigrant's story of hardship begins in Mexico and ends in Worthington

WORTHINGTON -- Generally when we get an unsigned letter to the editor, we slip it into a special folder where it sits for a few days before getting tossed into the round file.

We received one recently from a local immigrant. But although we can't use it in our "letters" section without a name, it is not a letter easy to ignore. Indeed, this letter offers a worthwhile perspective on the illegal immigration issue that swirls around us in this nation, in Minnesota, and in Worthington.

Hardly anyone can be found here who does not have strong feelings on illegal immigration. On our editorial pages, we have applauded local leaders who are willing to talk about law enforcement problems associated with illegals, and we also provided space for local immigrants complaining that immigrants south of the border are unfairly targeted.

It would seem that on an issue as important as this one, it is crucial that all sides are understood. Just as it is justifiable for local leaders to be concerned about the economic and legal troubles created by illegals who use and distribute falsified documents, it is important that we understand the situation from the standpoint of minorities who desire the things that we desire in life -- a job, a family, and to be comfortable in their surroundings.

Here is an unsigned letter we received recently from an immigrant. It came to us on six handwritten pages. It has been edited for length, but it is worth reading:

I am writing today to cast a different look on the problem of illegal immigration, a look from the side of a person who comes here from, say, Mexico.

The officials from our country have meetings where paid people and officials get together all of who are well-meaning and have worked hard to "help" people who come here, and yet call people "second-class" and "underground citizens." The problem as I see it is that they do not know the real reason why people come to this country. Also, how hard it is to live here; also how hard it is to be pushed into a corner.

I am going to tell you my story. In 1991 I was 19 years old, the eldest male of a 10-children family. My father, a farmer, struggled daily to keep food on the table. My mother, a devoted Catholic mother, worked hard to keep our family together and keep us in school.

I decided I wanted to be somebody. I try by going and struggling to stay in school. I had the ultimate goal to become a veterinarian. Each day I leave my home at 5 a.m. and take two buses to school two hours from my home. Upon my arrival home, I needed to help with farm work until 9 p.m., then study to keep up my grades. I did this every day for three years, plus help my family.

My uncle supported me to go to school, paying my transportation and book costs, but suddenly my uncle passes away and I can no longer continue my education.

This left me with no choice but to leave my family and look for a job to create a better life. About this time a cousin came back from the United States to Mexico who told me many stories about how I could go to the U.S. and get work and live and send lots of money for my family. He told me he would help me to get a job and a place to live, how wonderful it was.

So not only was I going, but I had to come up with money to go. I begged and borrowed for money and did whatever I could to get the money, and took off for the border with my bag of clothes and food and stuff.

At the border we walked five hours in the night in the desert along with approximately 20 other people and a few children. We were almost to the spot where it is safe when immigration caught all of us and brought us all back and took our stuff (they didn't get my money, for I was smart and kept it safe). This is when I first wondered, "What am I doing?" This is with our "coyote" (the people who get you across the border and at that time to where you are going). It is all different now, but he "sold" us to a different coyote like we were "stuff."

The next day we took the five-hour walk again and that day we made it across the border to become "illegal immigrants." There were people from the group (I had gotten totally separated from my cousin and from anyone I knew), these people were also going to Minnesota and it was the coyote who got us our tickets to fly to Minneapolis. I still had money to pay the coyote when he dropped me off at my cousin's home a few weeks later in Worthington (keep in mind, I was living in an old car with no access to a shower).

I arrived at my cousin's address, a one-bedroom home in Worthington where 20 men were staying. But there was a bathroom and I took my place to sleep on the kitchen floor in a corner. I was an adult, but I cried on that floor for many nights wondering what I was doing there. Now I had no money and knew only one person -- my cousin, who was having his own hard time.

The big question was how do I get work? ... I asked lots of questions and finally I found another person who was working in Iowa who was willing to lend me his papers. He told me to take them to the Government Center downtown and get an ID. ... I was told to get my new ID and to memorize it and to become this other person. I needed it to work, and I took my papers to Monfort and the person there spoke no Spanish. I had to go and find an interpreter, which was difficult at that time because who spoke two languages at that time? I took this person with me to my interview and the person asked lots of questions. How could I be an American citizen and not speak any English? I told him that I had lived in Mexico my whole life but I was born here in the U.S. and my idea was to come here to work. He stopped asking me questions and gave me a job. ...

I worked very hard and lots of overtime, and sent as much money as I could. I also found a few friends and a new apartment to live that wasn't so crowded. ... I have now called Worthington my home for 14 years. ... I have now many years ago received my U.S. citizenship, brought my parents here legally and also some of my family. I have continued to live in Worthington where I have been married for 12 years. I have always tried to be a model citizen and to show that I am a good person.

I now have the "American Dream," but I still feel the stigmatism every time I look in the news and see people who want to be good and to do the right thing -- not to be able to work because they do not have enough money to "buy" papers or they get stopped by the police -- not because they do not know how to drive, but because they cannot get their licenses because they do not have a Social Security card. People deserve to be able to work and be able to use their own names, and people want to pay for services but they cannot because the laws do not allow them to do so because the people who can change the laws do not know how. But to say that people are "second class" or "underground" only perpetuates our problem, and this country has a history of not solving the problem but using words to stereotype people. But is this ever right?

Doug Wolter

Doug Wolter is the Daily Globe sports editor. He served as sports reporter, then sports editor, news editor and finally managing editor at the Daily Globe for 22 years before leaving for seven years to work as night news editor at the Mankato Free Press in Mankato. Doug now lives in Worthington with his wife, Sandy. They have three children and seven grandchildren. Doug, retired after a lengthy career in fast-pitch softball, enjoys reading, strumming his acoustic guitar and hanging around his grandchildren. He also writes books on fiction. Two of his stories, "The Genuine One" and "The Old Man in Section 129" have been distributed through a national publisher.

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