Sunday, November 18, 2007

When we talking about Immigration legal and Undocumented we refering just to Mexicans. Why being so obsessed with Mexicans? Are we are afraid of Mexicans or we are ignorants that we do not see any other undocumented Immigrants rather than just Mexicans?. How in the world people stated that Mexicans are uneducated, unskilled, but they are affraid that they will take their jobs?.

The proprietor of the famous Hamilton Farms billboard along Interstate 5 this week made a very public attempt at humor about U.S. immigration problems, but it doesn’t have all of Lewis County laughing.

For decades, the sign donned with an image of Uncle Sam has brought controversial national issues to the forefront of local discussion and this week was no different. As of Thursday, commuters on the freeway read, “NO MEXICAN OLYMPIC TEAMS? ALL THE RUNNERS AND SWIMMERS ARE HERE!”

Although he has come to expect similarly blunt opinions on the sign, Winlock City Council member Eliaci Sanchez wants to make this one an issue. Sanchez, who is of Mexican descent, said he doesn’t see the recent missive as a statement on immigration, but rather as racial discrimination.

It’s just focusing on the Mexican community when we know there are illegal immigrants from all over the world. It is racial profiling,” Sanchez said. “Immigration is a big problem, but the sign is less stating an opinion and more treating it as a joke. It’s not a joke.”

Mike Hamilton, Camas resident and son of the sign’s original keeper Alfred Hamilton, said he should not be criticized for having the gall to take a defined stand on an issue that seems to have no easy solution.

“It does target Mexicans because that’s where the humor about immigration is in terms of Lewis County,” Hamilton said. “Am I then racist because I’m willing to speak out against an intense problem we’re having?

Hamilton went on to highlight some of the problems he contends Mexicans and illegal immigrants in general bring to the county.

We have an increased crime rate because they’re here and we have a higher health care costs because they are here,” Hamilton said. “They bring their own values and live the life of whatever country they came from, and they get all the benefits from living in this country. They don’t want to assimilate into our culture. It stratifies our culture and it tears it apart.

Hamilton also contends that illegal immigrants disturb the existing social order wherever they settle.

“They create a bigger lower class,” Hamilton said. “The illegal ones don’t have the ability to compete in a culture like ours that is oriented to a high education level.”

Sanchez, on the other hand, thinks immigrants have an important role to play in the U.S. job market.

We need a new wave of immigrants to keep the country going,” said Sanchez, who first came to Winlock in the late 1980s with his father, a migrant farmer sent here by a U.S. program designed to bring Mexican labor to American fields. “Both countries benefit from immigration. The Mexican people receive all the money made here and the U.S. gets cheap labor.”

Sanchez said he was part of one of the first Hispanic families to live in Winlock and was generally well-received by the community. According to U.S. Census data, the population of Hispanics in Lewis County increased by about 1,400 between 2000 and 2006, from 3,684 to 5,040. With the overall population having grown by about 7,000 in those six years, Hispanics made up 5.4 percent of the population in 2000 and 6.8 percent in 2006.

Posting of the new message comes just days after a Centralia-Chehalis Chamber of Commerce meeting to discuss local activity of the Hispanic gang Little Valley Lokotes and the annual Latino Youth Summit at Centralia College. Banter about the immigration issue is not hard to come by anywhere in the county.

“That’s a joke you might tell in a bar,” said Timothy Schmidt, a U.S. Army squad leader who saw soldiers of Mexican descent die in conflict, “but it’s not something you put on a freeway sign from Portland to Seattle.”

Others also voiced concerns about perceptions the sign might create about Lewis County.
“We all are judged, if we want to be or not, by these ‘opinions’ expressed on this billboard on our freeway,” said John Hinkley, a retired Toledo farmer who has been following the local discussion.

Todd Christensen, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce, said he has no evidence that the sign drives businesses away from locating in the Twin Cities.

I think the sign is indicative that our community is open to sharing thoughts and opinions that may be agreeable to some and not to others. It’s their right of free speech and something that the community has the right to continually discuss,” Christensen said. “I have no evidence that it has repelled any individual from locating a business here and at the same time I have no evidence it has secured the opening of a business in Lewis County.”

Hamilton said the sign is thought-provoking and gets people to face tough issues. Sanchez should be in full support of the statement, Hamilton said.

“(Sanchez) should be waving a banner at the sign and saying ‘Yeah, we need to fix this problem,’” Hamilton said. “If he is a government official and his job is to uphold the law, I would say he’s not really doing his job.”

Sanchez and Hamilton agree on one thing - illegal immigration is a serious problem and people should stop avoiding the issue.
Our local leaders need to voice their opinions like I’m doing here,” Sanchez said. “I do respect freedom of speech, but the issue is too sensitive to make jokes about. It’s a fact that we do have a large Hispanic community here. There is a lot of discrimination as it is in their work and community, but then there is this sign, too.”

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