Immigration should give Guillen a break

Posted: Sunday, January 02, 2005

Vantage Point By Robert Hale, publisher of the Juneau Empire.

It's a case like that involving Ernesto Guillen, a resident of Juneau since 1996 who is soon to be deported to his native Mexico for being an illegal alien, that makes you wonder how an otherwise decent person gets a break.

Guillen is scheduled to be sent back to Mexico on Feb. 6, following his arrest by U.S. immigration officials last March at a local restaurant where he had worked from 1997 to 2004. Guillen's family, his wife and four children who range in age from 16 to 9, will be allowed to remain in the United States; in fact, the Guillens' children are all American citizens by birth.

Guillen has lived and worked in the United States for the past 17 years, during which time he's paid taxes and lived much like the rest of us. He's also worked hard to be in America and to remain here, crossing the border for the first time in 1987 at age 15, and going so far as to flee Mexico on four other occasions when he was caught and deported from Washington state to his homeland.

Guillen is here because, yes, he's broken the law, not just once but on several occasions. He's pleaded his case before an immigration judge in Anchorage on three different occasions, but to no avail. Appeals made by friends, coworkers and strangers who have sent some 200 letters on his behalf to state legislators have thus far been of little help.

Now the local organization Juneau People for Peace and Justice is gathering petitions to be sent to Alaska's congressional delegation in hopes the lawmakers will intervene on his behalf.

In the meantime, the immigration service's position is this: the fact that someone has been in the country for an extended time doesn't grant him or her legal status. Nor does the fact that one's children are U.S. citizens, or that one has been a productive member of society.

You'd think immigration officials would view this case as a criminal court (or judge) would a case in which a defendant has demonstrated enough character to get a chance at earning what he wants most and has risked his life for on previous occasions: to remain in this country as a naturalized citizen with his family.

And, speaking of rational decisions, what could the folks in Salinas, Calif., be thinking in rejecting a half-cent tax increase that would have allowed the city to keep its three public libraries open?

Salinas, hometown of renowned author John Steinbeck, will begin this month to close its libraries, after which the community of 150,000 will be the largest city west of the Mississippi with no public libraries.

While closing one or two of its libraries to help balance the city budget might make sense, Salinas' city fathers are acting foolishly to cut off its residents from the libraries' literacy courses, English-as-a-second-language materials (Salinas is home to a large number of poor farmworkers and immigrants), periodicals, reference materials, Internet access and after-school programs.

The library closures may make for budgetary savings, but the cost to the community in the long will be enormous. And sadly enough, Salinas is just one of many communities in which public libraries are struggling and drastically reducing services and hours of operation.

• Robert Hale is publisher of the Juneau Empire. He can be reached at robert.hale@juneauempire.com.

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