A search Tuesday of the Chinook Observer’s online archives for the word immigration found 135 stories in recent years — 75 in the past 12 months. References before this troubled year were close to 100 percent positive, celebrating American traditions of hospitality, assimilation and building success through diversity.
Beneath this peaceful picture — in which Hispanic families with varying levels of official paperwork contributed to our coastal economy — it’s now obvious there lurked a growing dissatisfaction among some non-Hispanic residents. They applaud Trump administration deportation efforts and are unhappy with local news stories and columns covering impacts of Trump’s policies. It has been years since there was such a divisive subject so overtly dividing local hearts and minds.
Observer columnist Sydney Stevens, in a multi-part series that concluded last week, provided a incisive look inside families who find themselves in a country that has rolled out an “unwelcome mat.” This is after decades of tacitly inviting informal immigration, enticed by jobs coupled with immigration enforcement that was largely symbolic so long as they otherwise led reasonably law-abiding lives.
Many of our Hispanic neighbors feel persecuted — for valid reasons — but it’s important to note that their perceptions are not always accurate. Local law enforcement, in the form of Long Beach Police and Pacific County Sheriff’s Office, are not out to get them. There is no good reason to believe they are doing anything other than appropriately enforcing city and state laws. With their time already stretched to the limits, police have none to donate to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Coming from Latin American countries where law enforcement is rife with corruption, Hispanic paranoia is understandable but counterproductive.
Locals who worry about undocumented immigration do so for some reasons that are rational and understandable, but others that aren’t justified, including racism.
According to an analysis by Headwaters Economics analysis, in Pacific County, Hispanics comprised 1 percent of the population in 1980, compared to 8.8 percent in 2015. There were 1,635 more Hispanic residents in the county in 2015 than in 1980. The county’s overall population increased 3,408 in those years — or 20 percent — to a total of 20,645. The Hispanic component of the population increased 951 percent.
A majority of these residents are here legally; however such visible changes in the composition of a rural population are bound to stir misgivings.
For most of us, it’s possible to believe the U.S. should regulate who comes in and stays here, and yet also believe it is inhumane and economically self-sabotaging to kick out productive immigrants who hold down jobs and raise kids here. Pragmatically, low-population counties like ours lack the excess workforce to fill the vacancies created by wholesale deportations.
Level-headed Republican and Democratic U.S. senators developed such a compromise years ago — a path to normalization for immigrants who are committed to decent, long-term lives here. It’s time for the nation’s business leaders to press our businessman president to recognize the reality of this situation. We must find ways to address labor needs while making sure we know and control who enters the country.