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Play is immigration lesson

laura grevas/daily globe Joy Chavarria (left) and Christina Akers discuss making a trip to the United States to find work in "Help Wanted," a play preformed for area eighth-graders Wednesday.

WORTHINGTON -- They left it up to the students to decide: love, deportation or chicken patties.

At the end of "Help Wanted," a play about illegal immigrant exploitation in the United States, the three actors asked the student audience to predict whether the two Mexican women featured in the play continued working for low wages at a meat packing plant, were deported, or married two nice Minnesotan boys -- "Love and Marriage" as the actors called it.

The Nobles County eighth- graders attending the play Wednesday chose love and marriage over deportation by only a slight margin.

The truth?

The Albino sisters, on whose story the play is loosely based, were deported after several years in legal limbo. The sisters were facing deportation after their employer at a Twin Cities hotel reported them to Immigration and Naturalization Services in retaliation for their decision to join a union.

A lawyer filed a lawsuit on behalf of the women and others workers at the hotel, and each worker was paid about $8,000 in an out-of-court settlement.

The play tracks the events leading up to the deportation as the women struggle to find work in Mexico, make a dangerous border crossing and land in Minnesota, where a hotel manager hires them without documentation then withholds some of their pay.

"My hope is that students who are less familiar with the immigrant issue are able to see there are many ways to look at this topic," said Sharon Johnson of the Nobles County Integration Collaborative, which sponsored the play's presentation in Memorial Auditorium. "A lot of times, our fears prevent us from getting integrated."

"It gave you a new feel about how immigration is and how other people feel about it and how unfair it is," commented Worthington Middle School student Hanna Huisman after the show. "People should have equal rights no matter what race they are."

Johnson said the topic was an especially relevant one for Worthington and surrounding communities.

"Even though it's about hotel workers, the students in this community are very familiar with the concept of an INS raid and families struggling with and being afraid of deportation. ... That might be a daily fear for them," Johnson said.

The discussion continued after the play was finished, with students asking the actors what happened to the sisters and the hotel. The actors, from the St. Paul-based acting troupe Teatro del Pueblo, told students the sisters' whereabouts were unknown.

The hotel -- The Holiday Inn Express in downtown Minneapolis -- still exists, but the actors said it sustained a lot of negative publicity during the case about eight years ago.

Lonnie Myrom, an eighth- grade social studies teacher, said discussion surrounding immigration issues also continued briefly in the classroom. It's a topic students will revisit during a unit on immigration later this year.

"I think they reacted in a very positive way, and I think having the past experiences in Worthington were something they thought about as they were watching that play," Myrom said. "So I think the kids did bring something out of it in a positive way. Hopefully, those who aren't subjected to that kind of treatment understand a little better how it feels to be in those shoes."