In Our Backyard

Fewer states are closer to the debate over illegal immigration than ours—and fewer people have more opinions about it than we do. Just ask these Texans.

November 2010By , , , , , , , and Comments

Fewer states are closer to the debate over illegal immigration than ours—and fewer people have more opinions about it than we do. Just ask these Texans.

Photographs by Van Ditthavong

Eloisa Tamez

Eloisa Tamez • 75

Tamez is an associate professor of nursing at the University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College. in 2009 the Department of Homeland Security constructed a fence along the river levee that runs through her property.

Our elected officials are failing to address the real problems and trying to make a few of us in South Texas pay for it all. They persist with this notion that the wall is going to solve everything, but the wall has been up long enough for us to know otherwise.

Mark Davis

Mark Davis • 52

Davis is the host of the conservative radio talk program The Mark Davis Show and a columnist for the Dallas Morning News. He lives in Flower Mound.

America’s greatness was forged at the hands of immigrants who came here respecting the laws and vowing to assimilate. Today’s immigrants too often expect America to conform to them.

Lázaro García

Lázaro García • 42

GarcÍa emigrated from Guanajuato, Mexico, when he was 16. A permanent resident, he lives with his wife and two children in Austin, where he works as a carpenter.

My parents were farmworkers. There were no jobs, so my father crossed the border for seasonal work. Mostly cotton. As the oldest of eight, I was the first to follow. In 1986 he qualified for amnesty, and I got papers as an agricultural laborer. One by one, the rest of my family also applied to come. I then had the good fortune of meeting a carpenter who taught me his trade. I’ve worked on houses for twenty years now, and I’m always busy—when you do good work, people call you. I supervise many men who remind me of my younger self, and I counsel them on how to make a life here legally. I don’t think we’re taking anyone’s job. There’s plenty of work, it’s just that many people find it too hard and too low-paying.

Daniel Hickey • 35

Hickey is an agent at the Weslaco Border Patrol station, which oversees forty miles along the Rio Grande.

I came here about three and a half years ago. Originally I’m from outside Philadelphia. They called me up and said, “We’d like to offer you a position in Weslaco.” I said, “Great. Where’s that located?” They said, “Near McAllen.” I said, “Well, where’s that located?” I’d never been to South Texas. Since I arrived, the progress we’ve made—the quality of agent on the ground, the technology—is incredible. It’s disconcerting to hear people say that the federal government isn’t doing enough on the border. If you saw the number of arrests we make and the amount of narcotics we interdict, you’d be amazed.

Dob Cunningham

Dob Cunningham • 76

Cunningham is a rancher whose stock farm borders two miles of the Rio Grande near Quemado, about fifteen miles north of Eagle Pass. He has lived there since 1949.

Before the economy went downhill, illegals were coming through daily, from Ten people in a group to more than one hundred. They knocked fences down, scattered our livestock, left trash. It used to be that people came to work the season and then returned, but about twenty years ago, they began bringing their families, with no intention of going back. I’ve seen baby bottles and little footprints in the mud. Some of the people I’ve encountered make you want to cry, they’re so desperate. Or you’ll run into one that’s snake-bit or has a broken leg. Of course we always feed and doctor them.

Adryana Boyne

Adryana Boyne • 45

Boyne is the national director of VOCES Action, a nonprofit organization that engages Latinos on conservative matters, as well as a spokesperson for the Republican party on Hispanic issues. She lives in Highland Village.

I was born in Puebla, Mexico. I arrived here legally, on a student visa, and went through the proper process to become a U.S. citizen in 1994. I joined the GOP because Republicans believe in the right to life and a free-enterprise system that lets you keep most of the money you earn—values that all Latinos I know believe in. And it’s simply not true that Republicans are anti-immigration. Yes, we believe in securing the border. But we also know how important blue-collar workers are to the economy. We want to make obtaining a work visa more efficient; all we ask in return is respect for the law. Becoming an American is such a great honor it shouldn’t just be given away.

J Carnes

J Carnes • 35

Carnes is the president of Winter Garden Produce, a grower of broccoli, cabbage, and onions in Uvalde.

Right now I’ve got about fifteen employees, because we’re just planting, but in the spring I’ll hire up to five hundred. We harvest the crop, clean it, grade it, box it, cool it, and sell it to H-E-B, Walmart, and others. We rely mostly on contract labor. In 2005 we lost about $250,000 in crops because we couldn’t find enough labor. In this business, we’ve got the weather and the changing market prices to deal with; one problem we shouldn’t have is a shortage of labor, especially if we’re playing by the rules. Employer sanctions will only hurt those who really contribute to the state’s economic output.

The Reverend John W. Bowie

The Reverend John W. Bowie • 71

Bowie is the pastor of True Light Missionary Baptist Church, in Houston. He was part of an effort by the city’s clergy to discuss immigration reform in their Fourth of July sermons this year.

When Jesus talks about who is on the Lord’s side and who is not, he says, “I was a stranger, and you did not invite me in.” He taught that we must be good to the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, and the stranger. Immigration reform is a difficult message for my congregation, which is predominantly black, to embrace. Many feel that we just got to the place of being accepted, and now our jobs are being taken by others. One of the ironies is that we talk about the illegal alien but never about the illegal employer, who is often the abuser. I remind my congregation of the brotherhood of man and that abuse and injustice to anyone is abuse and injustice to all people.

William D. Fry

William D. Fry • 59

Fry is the branch chief of the federal public defender’s office in Del Rio, where he represents immigrants who are criminally prosecuted for illegal entry under the Border Patrol initiative Operation Streamline.

The idea behind Operation Streamline is zero tolerance. Everyone the Border Patrol catches is prosecuted, even if it’s the person’s first time. It’s difficult to make a lot of my clients understand that, in America, the burden is on the government to prove their guilt. Some of them have arguable defenses, but to avoid waiting in jail and return home quickly, many plead guilty without fully realizing the consequences of that decision. It is an uphill battle to be charged in federal criminal court, but these people have families to feed, relatives who need medical attention, kids to keep in school, and there is no work in Mexico. The penalties are a risk they feel they have to take.

ary Davison

Mary Davison • 30

Davison is an administrative assistant at a health care company. She lives in Alvin with her children, Denis, 15; Angie, 13; Elijah, 9; Ephram, 6; and Eden, 2. Her husband, Israel Leonardo Macias, lives in Mexico City.

Leo and I met in 2003. He came to Texas when he was six, on a family visa, and was a permanent resident. He had two daughters from a previous marriage, and I had a son. We then had two boys together. He worked in sales in electronics in Pearland. He liked to go fishing and watch movies with the kids. His whole life was his family.

In February, his truck radio was stolen, so Leo called the police. After checking his ID, they arrested him. More than ten years ago, Leo was working for U-Haul when he was accused of stealing. He said he hadn’t, but his attorney convinced him to plead no contest, and he got deferred adjudication. When he was late for a meeting with his probation officer, they revoked it, and he was deported. He returned in 2001, but the conviction was still on his record. So when the police saw that, he was sent to a detention center. I was able to visit once. Three weeks later, they deported him. Our two-year-old took it the hardest. He’s real clingy now that Leo is gone.

I went to an attorney, who told us that the only option is to have the old conviction opened and either downgraded to a misdemeanor or removed. She told us we have a 10 to 15 percent chance. But I have to do this. No one wants to have their children grow up without a father, especially when he wants to be there.

Mary Davison

Rogelio Núñez • 58

Núñez is the executive director of Harlingen’s Casa de Proyecto Libertad, a nonprofit that works to defend the rights of immigrants.

In the past twenty years, the immigrants I’ve met are not criminals and do not take advantage of government programs. They have endured immense suffering, making their way across the river just to take low-paying jobs. Many are exploited, some of the women are sexually assaulted, and yet still they come—all because of the hope of finding a better life for themselves and their families. Do we really want to turn our backs on these hardworking people?

Tim O’Hare

Tim O’Hare • 41

O’hare is the mayor of Farmers Branch, whose city council has passed ordinances that prohibit illegal immigrants from renting property in town. After a federal court ruled the measures unconstitutional earlier this year, the city appealed the decision to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

It’s sad to me that if someone can bring race into an issue, it will be used to shut people up. If we were talking about putting 12 million Canadian millionaires back across the border, you wouldn’t hear a peep. At the time Farmers Branch started talking about illegal immigration, no elected officials on the national level would speak up. We ignited a spark. I’m proud to live in a city that won’t cow to political correctness run amok.

Wendy Warren

Wendy Warren • 49

Warren is an eleventh-grade U.S. history teacher at Hastings High School, in the Alief Independent School District, where more than eighty languages and dialects are spoken by immigrant families.

Do I ask my students whether they’re here legally? No, never. Do I feel burdened that they’re here? Not at all. I’d like to see reform so that they can go to college without the paperwork issues that hinder them. They bring so much to the classroom. In one of our units, we discuss the immigration of Europeans to America in the early 1900’s, and we compare the reasons people came then with why they come today. Our debates are a lot more civil than those in Washington.

José Torres-Don

José Torres-Don • 22

Torres-Don is a 2010 graduate of the University of Texas at Austin. in july He participated in a peaceful sit-in at Senator Harry Reid’s office to push for passage of the DREAM Act, which would provide undocumented youth with a path to citizenship through college or the military.

I was four when my family came. It was night, and I was carried for most of the walk by my parents. I remember how, compared with our dirt floors in San Luis Potosí, in Austin the colors seemed brighter, the trees greener. I went to school and got into college, but now, four years later, I don’t legally qualify for any job related to my government and business degree. My mom needs dialysis and has no way to pay for it, and if I go to Mexico to find work, I have a ten-year ban before I can return. I was arrested at our sit-in this summer, and I could have been deported. But I had to put everything on the line.

Jean Towell

Jean Towell • 73

Towell is a past president of Citizens for Immigration Reform, a Dallas-based group that was dedicated to fighting illegal immigration. The group is now a chapter of the statewide Immigration Reform Coalition of Texas, where Towell serves on the board of directors. She lives in Abilene.

For most of my adult life, I was a stay-at-home mom in Dallas. Then in the mid-nineties I read an article about the way illegal immigration was overwhelming our schools, hospitals, and social services. I said, “This just isn’t right.” I met up with some other politically active people, and in 2003 we founded Citizens for Immigration Reform. We had meetings, produced a newsletter, started a website, and organized protests at busy intersections with signs that read “Secure Our Borders.” I still send out regular e-mails to our database, and I’ll continue as long as I can.

Jean Towell

Undocumented Immigrant X • 48

A native of Guanajuato, Mexico, he works as an assistant cook in San Antonio.

I was a factory worker for all kinds of companies, fruit producers and juice makers among them. But no matter how much I worked, the pay was always low, the value of the peso poor. In December 2004, with the help of a coyote, I left my wife and three boys behind and walked through the desert for three days. I have seen my sons only through a computer screen in the six years since. We sometimes chat online. In Mexico, parents support their children through their university years, and I wanted the ability to do that. That is why I am here. I now work at two restaurants. I cook, wash dishes, clean tables, mop floors. There has not been a month I have not sent money home.

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