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Sweet Tea with Lemon

Article Published: Jun. 16, 2011 | Modified: Sep. 23, 2011

Last night I had the craziest dream. I was in a car trying to get to my vacation destination. But the highway I was driving on was so full of potholes and in need of repair that it looked like something from a war zone.

As I looked around at the houses and businesses, I could see that they, too, were in some bizarre state of disrepair. The hedges and lawns were overgrown to the point of looking like a jungle, and all of the buildings were not quite complete, with half a roof missing here or a wall missing there.

When I finally arrived at my vacation destination (still a mystery in my dream), I quickly found a hotel. It, too, was a landscaping nightmare, with overgrown grass and piles of leaves in every corner of the parking lot.

I walked into the building and up to the front desk, but there was no one there. I rang the little bell, but still nothing.

Despite having seen "The Shining" multiple times, I decided to explore this seemingly abandoned hotel to see if I could find someone. As I walked down the deserted corridors, I could see that some of the doors to the hotel rooms were open.

I stuck my head into one after another of the empty hotel rooms, only to find the same horrifying thing in each and every one of them: None of the beds were made.

Like a cinderblock it hit me.

"They've finally done it," I thought to myself. "They've gotten rid of all of the immigrant workers."
Then I woke up.

Now, I don't mean to suggest that all immigrant workers in this country are here illegally. Or that all landscaping, construction, road paving and hotel housekeeping jobs are done by immigrants.

But still, I have eyes and can see who is doing the lion's share of certain jobs. And I have ears and can tell when someone is speaking another language.

And you know what, I really don't care where someone is from or how they got here as long as they are working honestly, staying away from criminal behavior and paying taxes like the rest of us.

I have enough of a sense of history to realize that 99 percent of us living in the United States are immigrants, if not right now then probably just a few generations ago. I've read enough stories about early 20th-century immigrants from Italy, Germany and Russia to realize that most first-generation immigrants are not going to learn to speak English nearly as well as their children will. That is, if those children are given a chance.

Legislators in Raleigh appear determined to not give those children that chance if their parents are in this country illegally.

Four separate immigration enforcement bills are currently at various stages in the N.C. General Assembly and, if passed, would make our state one of the tougher places in the country for illegal immigrants to live.

One bill prevents foreign-born residents from using their home country's IDs as legal identification. Another requires all businesses with at least 25 employees to check the legal status of new hires using a federal system called E-Verify.

Another bill included a measure that would require all K-12 schools to check the immigration status of their students, but that part of the bill was removed. I guess legislators realized it would be hard to add extra duties to public school officials, while at the same time slashing school budgets.

Ironically, many of the same new legislators who were swept into Raleigh last November on their "less government, fewer taxes, good-for-business" rhetoric are the same ones telling businesses, schools and law enforcement officials what they must do about illegal immigrants working in their midst. Thanks for the help, lawmakers.

At least they are not going as crazy as their fellow lawmakers in some other states. Last Thursday, Alabama legislators handed the governor a new law that is so tough it makes it a crime to give an illegal immigrant a ride.

He signed it.

I guess if you got pulled over in Alabama for giving an illegal immigrant a ride, you could always tell the patrolling officer that you were trying to do your civic duty by giving him a ride to the Mississippi border.

What we need in this country is a smoother path to citizenship for all working immigrants who want it. Did you know there are more than 20 different kinds of status for working immigrants and 185 different kinds of visas?

There has to be a better way for people from other lands who wish to work in the United States to be treated.

Oh, by the way, when I mentioned at the beginning of the article the sorts of jobs that first and second generation immigrants to this country gravitate toward, I forgot to mention one significant one: The U.S. military.

Since the beginning of May, casualties of U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan have included Sgt. Louie Velazquez, Staff Sgt. Kristofferson Lorenzo, Pfc. Ramon Mora Jr. and Sgt. Amaru Aquilar. I have no way of knowing if these brave men were second generation immigrants or descendants of Spanish speaking people who have been in this country for more than 100 years. But I thank them, and I thank their ancestors who decided that the United States was where they wanted to live, work and raise their family.

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