Illegal immigration vexes many in state; fencing border `silly'
Sunday, September 03, 2006
Danielle Bliss worked for 4˝ years at a Mexican restaurant in Huntsville, side-by-side with many Hispanic immigrants. The restaurant went out of its way, she said, even offering free English classes to the Hispanic workers. But they refused to go.

"We all had to learn to speak Spanish in order to communicate with the kitchen," Bliss, 31, said as she took a break from her job at the Alabama Bread Co.

Many Alabamians seem to share Bliss' frustration. They don't mind the influx of Hispanics in the state, for the most part, so long as the new residents are in the country legally, holding down jobs, paying taxes and speaking English.

"I'm not for changing our system, I'm not for changing our language," Joey Howard, 47, of Branchville said while walking in Moody City Park. "Anybody who wants to come here should be able to, as long as they do it legally."

As for Sen. Jeff Sessions' proposal to spend $1.8 billion on a fence and vehicle barriers to keep Mexicans from entering the country illegally, the few people who thought it was a good idea were more likely to say it might keep terrorists out.

For the most part, fencing off the border just didn't speak to the practical nature of Alabamians. "Silly" was a word often used, after people got done calling it a waste of money.

"It's just a big waste of money," said Katharina Sieger, 62, of Talladega. "After all, the Cubans swam here. If people would realize that the U.S. is a country of immigrants. No one's a native except the Indians."

Besides, Sieger said, farmers and other employers need the labor the immigrants provide.

"That would be like building another Berlin Wall," said Elizabeth Ballard, 23, of Birmingham. "We don't need another structure. We just need better enforcement."

The fence did have its supporters.

"We've got to secure that border," said Jean Porter, 56, of Clanton. "I can't see any other answer for that, because they're just going to keep coming."

Porter said she wants security stepped up other places, too, because terrorists could cross into America from Canada, as well as Mexico, or arrive at airports.

Many people last week did have a solution for problems caused by illegal immigration - hold companies accountable.

"It all goes back to the employer," said Frances Malinowski, 62, a retired Army civilian employee at the Anniston Army Depot. "Usually hitting them in the pocketbook, fining them for hiring illegals, will get their attention."