Conservative Latinos divided on LB 48

February 27, 2011

Photo Nebraskans rally against an Arizona-style immigration bill in late January on the steps of the state capital.

Story by John Schreier, photo by Kyle Bruggeman

After spending the first 50 years of his life in California, Ed Hernandez was stunned when he moved to Nebraska three years ago.

His new home in West Point was a far cry from where he lived in California. No window locks. None on the doors either.

In California, he said, “Our dog wasn’t a pet – it was a watchdog. And on several occasions, it stopped people from coming into the house that didn’t belong there.”

The second-generation American heard about West Point from a neighbor who grew up there, and it was love at first sight for the 53-year-old farm foreman and his family to Nebraska.

California’s culture of crime also molded Hernandez’s belief that tougher border control is necessary. He said he worked with illegal immigrants who had no desire to be in the U.S. – other than to earn money before returning home.

“Laws are in place to protect us,” he said. “If everyone does whatever they want, it turns into California.”

Although most Hispanics have united in opposition to proposed illegal immigration bills, the conservative Latino bloc remains divided. Overall, Republicans tend to support this bill, which will be heard at the Capitol on March 2, and similar Arizona-style immigration measures.

But not all conservative Hispanics toe the party line.

Bob Quasius is the Midwest director of Somos Republicans. The upstart group was designed to offer conservative Hispanics an alternative to the perceived extremism of Republicans in regards to immigration. Quasius jumped headfirst into the issue, one he admits he knew little about, when he married a Honduran woman.

It took some prodding from former U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman to finally secure the mandatory interview that helped his fiancée and her daughter into the United States.

That experience, he said, was a startling revelation into the federal immigration quagmire.

While he doesn’t condone illegal immigration, the electrical engineer turned consultant now feels federal immigration laws need a complete overhaul. Even after his wife and stepdaughter received their visas, the immigration problems continued.

He said the chronic backlog at the federal level prevented them from receiving an extension on their visas until they had been expired for seven months. If Minnesota had an Arizona-style law when they Quasius shudders to think of what could have happened.

“My wife and daughter could’ve been thrown in jail despite never breaking any federal immigration laws,” he said.

Meanwhile, Hernandez said he worked extensively with foreigners who routinely broke federal immigration statutes on tomato farms in northern California. He admires those who come to America legally and learn English, as his grandfather did when he came from Mexico in the 1960s.

“There’s one young man here who became a citizen and got his driver’s license even, and he’s learning to speak English,” he said. “So there are some who do things according to the law.”

In those sun-drenched fields, Hernandez learned basic Spanish in three weeks to communicate with his co-workers. But many of those workers, he said, have no desire to become Americans.

Many came to work in the fields during the summer to make some money before heading home. And some were sent home early – deported after immigration raids.

Hernandez said they often returned illegally, and he feels that should raise eyebrows.

“The federal government isn’t doing their job,” he said. “Their job is to protect that border. They don’t have any idea who’s coming across – terrorists or whatever.”

But Quasius strongly disagreed, saying the “draconian” Arizona-style laws won’t curb illegal immigration because they don’t address the real issue – providing prospective immigrants an easier path to becoming American citizens.

The real “folly” of the current immigration system, he said, is that it fights the free-market principles of supply and demand. His ideal system simply would require those who wanted to become Americans to have a job offer in hand and pass criminal and medical tests before coming to the United States

“There’s no reason why most undocumented immigrants would illegally cross a border, cross a dangerous desert, risk their lives and put their security in the hands of their coyotes,” he said, “if all they had to do was fill out some paperwork and wait a reasonable amount of time to enter the U.S. in a legal fashion.”

Quasius also compared the proposed legislation to the disaster that was Prohibition.

In his analogy, the undocumented immigrants looking for work are the decent people of the 1920s who desired alcohol. He then likened the coyotes transporting truckloads of Latinos across the borders as bootleggers and mobs because both are criminals.

“If people who want to work here come here legally, then they don’t have any reason to cross our borders illegally,” he said. “Then the government can focus on the small criminal element that presumably would continue.”

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