Workers, not employers, have been saddled with the brunt of the punishment when companies are caught employing undocumented immigrants. The main reason is that they’re easier to prosecute. If someone is caught working without proper employment status, he or she can be prosecuted relatively easily for using fraudulent documents. When going after companies, prosecutors have to show that the employer knew that the workers didn’t have legal status and employed them anyway—a much harder case to make.
…About 8,500 people live in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, and for the past five years or so, the town has averaged 200 to 300 job openings on any given day.
…The job crunch has been intense for years all over town, but increased scrutiny from ICE has made filling open slots even more challenging.
…In the statehouse he’s considered a moderate on immigration issues, refusing to follow some colleagues who take a harder, more nativist line. He knows businesses in his district need those workers, and he insists he’s eager to embrace them as neighbors. But why don’t they embrace Mount Pleasant? “Don’t get me wrong,” says Heaton, who’ll retire from the legislature in 2019. “The only thing that upsets me is if they’re coming, they need to blend. I don’t need ‘barrios.’ I don’t need these certain sectors where everything is still the way it was where they came from. If you’re going to meld, then meld.”
By owning up to these mixed feelings, Heaton is a true local representative, voicing opinions that a lot of others share but won’t acknowledge on the record.
…“Who the hell would pull up from where they live,” Heaton wondered, “start out on a multithousand-mile journey, heading north to illegally enter the United States? Who is it that would leave their town, split their family, the whole bit? They must be living in terrible, terrible conditions. I can’t imagine.”
…Urizar had been in Mount Pleasant almost three years when Walfred started attending middle school in Uspantán. The boy told his mother the school was crawling with gangs. Older boys were pressuring him to run drugs, he said. Celia was horrified. She spoke to Urizar, and they agreed that the time had come. The boy was old enough to join his father in Mount Pleasant.
…Urizar dreams of a day when all of his children will be able to travel back and forth between the two countries without fear, when they can see their parents whenever they want, and when hard work pays off in peace of mind.
That day isn’t today.
…Young’s pastor at the First Presbyterian Church, the Reverend Trey Hegar, had helped arrange the [unofficial] adoption [of the now deported Urizar’s son,] and his congregation raised money to help pay Young’s expenses. When the details were being worked out, Hegar had met with the members of Young’s family, trying to calm their concerns, which were far from superficial. Young might be as sharp as any 82-year-old you’ll ever meet, but she has a bad back, has trouble with stairs, and tires easily. Her family worried that the stress of taking on an undocumented child might seriously erode her health. Even Young understood that fear. But the idea of the boy living alone, orphaned in Mount Pleasant, violated her concept of fairness. “I said, ‘It’ll kill her not to do it,’ Hegar recalled. “This is what she’s living for.”
…Young ducked into the living room to introduce herself and found them slouching on the couches, absorbed in their cellphones.
…“OK, fellas, we’re gonna have a little lesson here,” she said, ordering them to put down their phones. She explained that when a lady walks into a room, they should stand. She offered them a chance for redemption, introducing herself once again. “This is where you say to me, ‘Hi, nice to meet you!’ ”
She truly hated those cellphones, and she didn’t like how Walfred seemed to be adopting his friends’ obsession with them. When the other boys left, she asked Walfred if she’d embarrassed him. “No, Grandma,” he told her. “You were great.”
…As they fished out Walfred’s checkbook, Tangkhpanya took an immediate and protective interest in the boy. She offered an impromptu lesson in balancing an account—a service she’d offered countless newcomers over the years. “People need someone to show them how to do these things,” she says.
…His lobby doubles as a Trailways bus station, and for many foreign-born workers, the Heidelberg is the gateway to Mount Pleasant. Like Tangkhpanya, he’s become an informal guide for newcomers—another example of how the second wave of immigrants is melding with the first, some of whom have created a commercial support network that can be invisible to those who don’t need to look for it.
Next to the front counter, a bank of four red telephones sits on a table, and these attract a steady stream of customers, most of them Spanish speakers who’ve just collected their paychecks. They use the phones to wire cash to places such as Guatemala and Mexico.
…This is why Walfred asked Young to bring him to the Heidelberg. He wanted to send some of his spending money back to his father.
…Most of the 32 workers arrested at the Mount Pleasant concrete plant in May are still waiting for their court hearings. Even Urizar, from his house in Chocox, continues to unintentionally tie up courtrooms in Iowa, and his case illustrates the confusion and clutter that permeate the system. When he was transferred to the Hardin County Detention Center, his lawyers weren’t told about the move and had to search for him. Later, at his final hearing before a judge in late June, Urizar didn’t appear in court; no one showed up at the prison to drive him to the courtroom, three hours away. Then Urizar’s lawyers weren’t able to confirm his deportation until six weeks after he’d been flown to Guatemala. Meanwhile, a criminal case against him continues, charging him with illegal reentry into the U.S. and the fraudulent misuse of identification documents, including a Social Security number. His attorneys have repeatedly tried to get the case dismissed, arguing that Urizar’s constitutional rights to due process and legal representation are violated because he can no longer consult with counsel. As of late December, the criminal case against Urizar was still active.