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preface “. . . one country, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” —from the “Pledge of Allegiance” Most people welcome a summons to jury duty with all the enthusiasm reserved for a root canal. I was no exception, and yet serving on a jury proved to be a vastly enriching experience. Not only did all the prospective jurors come away with new respect for our system and how it works, but the case itself led me to questions I had never considered before. Those questions are now being raised by scholars, politicians, educators, social-service workers, and ordinary people throughout the country. The court case in point: two Latino brothers, here illegally and speaking only Spanish, came forth as complaining witnesses against an Appalachian youth, accusing him of assault and robbery. Before the proceedings began, the judge asked if anyone on the jury would be swayed by the fact that the brothers were here without documentation and would need an interpreter in court. No one had a problem with that. Attorneys on both sides repeated the question. We all believed we could act without prejudice. We found the defendant guilty of assault—it was obvious that one brother had suffered a broken tooth—but not guilty of robbery. It couldn’t be proven that he had stolen the gold chain that the accuser had been wearing. n ix x n Preface When the judge talked to us later, we had some questions for him. Weren’t the brothers afraid to expose their illegal status in a court of law? He explained that they had the same rights as any citizen and that it was not the court’s duty to turn them in. There were no witnesses who could attest to the fight among the young men. They had all scattered as soon as the police appeared. The judge explained that the many illegal immigrants who live in that section of our city frequently change their residences anyway. Hidden away in restaurant kitchens, food-processing plants, construction sites, and gardening crews, they remain the invisible population. Just how many immigrants, mostly Hispanic, are living in our area without documentation? I wondered. I learned later that there are some 40 million people in the United States identified as Hispanic who have every right to be here, as citizens or legal residents, but another 12 million whose stay is not sanctioned by law.1 To put the latter figure in perspective, that’s more than the populations of Greece, Belgium, Portugal, Sweden, and many other countries in the world. It’s almost three times the number of Norwegians or Irish, and about twice that of Israelis in their homelands. It also equals the population of Ohio. Although entry numbers may decline in the face of economic downturns, many of those who are here already are determined to stay.2 There may be 100,000 illegal immigrants in Ohio alone. That’s the size of a mid-sized city like Roanoke, Charleston, or Duluth. What does this huge influx mean for already overburdened schools, social services, hospitals? How does it affect the economy of the area and the employment of American citizens? What is it like to live in hiding, vulnerable to exploitation in employment, housing, and personal relationships? Not many would have the courage, like the brothers at the trial, to assert the legal rights to which they are entitled. When we ignore laws designed to protect the rights of all, I learned, everyone suffers. Our country is united by two factors: the rule of law and the English language. Is the presence of illegals undermining these two basic tenets and, as Samuel Huntington would have it, changing the character of our nation, and not for the better? Or, as Sister Maria of Dayton’s Hispanic Ministry claims, are their values of family importance and work ethic strengthening our culture? What have local governments and communities done to meet this challenge? Due to proximity, a porous border, and established family networks, most of this hidden population are from Mexico. So what is our neighbor to the south doing about it? Most important of all, aided by my fluency in Spanish, I got to know some of those individuals who had risked their lives to come to this, the promised land. I was able to put some faces to those cold statistics. It was a twist of fate—or the click of the county court’s computer—that set me Preface n xi...


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MARC Record
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