Story shows immigration complexities

March 4, 2007 

Leigh Westraade of Myrtle Beach knows a thing or two about illegal immigration.

Members of her husband's family were here illegally, and it took some of them 10 years and immigration and lawyers fees to become citizens. Her in-laws couldn't work during the seven years they had to wait to get their green cards.

A brother-in-law refused to become legal until the family forced his hand. His daughter hasn't been allowed back in the country.

Another brother-in-law received a green card after he testified in a Calabash, N.C., bank robbery case.

Westraade knows several immigration attorneys, and says the system is so backlogged that it must be privatized.

She believes all immigrants should go through the arduous process to become legal immigrants. She's helped people navigate the system and provided them with English lessons.

"It's not of any benefit for people to come here illegally, because they are stuck," she said.

But she's equally certain that you don't turn away a child in need, as Horry County Auditor Lois Eargle suggested last week. Eargle told an illegal immigrant who asked for free legal help for an abused child to "go back to Mexico."

Westraade, who disagrees with some of my views on illegal immigration, is one of the most reasonable people I heard from this past week.

Another reader said placing a minefield along the Mexican-U.S. border would be more effective than building a wall.

Westraade's story illustrates the complexity of the issue. Her husband is a lawyer, and they are people of means. Not all illegal immigrants have the wherewithal or money to effectively deal with the overloaded INS.

Her husband is from South Africa, not Mexico, though the U.S.-Mexican border is where most of the discussion and vitriol are focused. Westraade said she knows of many South Africans who come here on holiday visas with no intentions of returning to their home country.

Years ago, Westraade hired an illegal immigrant from Brazil as a housekeeper. She misses and loves her, but wouldn't hire another illegal immigrant. It was a different time in her life, she said.

She had three small kids and a husband who worked long hours. She tried to hire local help. They all were incompetent.

"When she showed up at my door, it was like God had sent her," Westraade said. "I was desperate for help."

Many people on both sides of the the borders still are.

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