Immigration debate hits home at area church
Published: Sunday, February 3, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, February 2, 2013 at 10:21 p.m.
The day Ubaldo left his home in Chiapas, Mexico, he didn't take any old photos or trinkets from home. As he made the 2,000-mile journey to Florida, he thought he wouldn't stay in the United States long anyway. He'd make enough money to give his seven siblings a better future and then return home.
During the three days he crossed the Sonoran Desert to Arizona, he lugged in his backpack two gallons of water, tuna, tostadas, oral rehydration salts, caffeine pills, a bandana to filter the dirty desert water, black clothes to hide from the Border Patrol and two bags of Bimbo sliced bread.
But 10 years have passed, and the 25-year-old illegal immigrant is still in Florida, working at a plant nursery where his employer doesn't ask for his papers. What Ubaldo, who only gave his first name, makes in one hour here as a manager, he would have made in one day of work in Chiapas.
President Barack Obama's and a group of senators' new plans for immigration reform could help Ubaldo receive his documentation. The president's plan includes streamlining legal immigration, cracking down on employers hiring illegal immigrants, continuing to strengthen border security and the chance of earning citizenship.
“If I got my papers, the first thing I would do would be to go visit my family. I haven't seen them in 10 years,” he said. “I call them all the time, but I don't know what they look like anymore.”
Ubaldo attends the Iglesia Adventista del Septimo Dia de Gainesville (Church of the Seventh-Day Adventists of Gainesville), where there is a small community of illegal immigrants among the 250 who attend, mostly Latinos. The undocumented are usually young men from Chiapas, a state that bases most of its economy on agriculture and lags behind other Mexican states in almost all socioeconomic factors.
Hector Caraballo, 49, an elder, said the Gainesville church tries to help this community through English classes, health fairs, cancer screenings, financial aid and food. “The church doesn't look at (legal status) because when Jesus was on Earth, he didn't discriminate against anyone,” Caraballo said. “He said ‘Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone.' ”
Business owners, especially those in construction, agriculture, landscaping and roofing, where illegal immigrants are mostly employed, would be the ones losing, pastor Byron Rivera said.
“The first people to benefit themselves from legalizing undocumented immigrants would be the United States,” he said. “The immigrants are a strong and large labor force who they would be able to tax, and this would help the economy.”
Like Ubaldo, Esau, 26, who also only gave his first name, lives paranoid of being stopped by the police. His wife is pregnant with their second child, and if he is deported back to Chiapas, they would have to fend for themselves here in Gainesville.
“I was about to die when I crossed the border the first time after being in the desert for seven days. I kept thinking, ‘What the hell am I doing here?' ” he said. “I did it to give my family a better future, to come here to work and give them more opportunities.”