Immigration an issue in Nebraska

AP/NY Times:

Forget the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

Nebraska natives, who have watched a steady flow of immigrants fill jobs at local meatpacking plants, increasingly oppose the new faces. And they are showing their opposition at the polls.

''It isn't so much that people don't like the immigrants or don't think there's a place for them,'' said Gary Pence, a 59-year-old Crete salesman. ''It's just not that 'Leave it to Beaver' era we grew up in.''

While the nation debates border security and the fate of 11 million illegal aliens, the farm town of Crete, population 6,000, is having a debate of its own.

Immigrants from Mexico and Guatemala have come to America's heartland for jobs at the Farmland Inc., meatpacking plant, working for about $9 an hour slaughtering hogs, boxing frozen hams and pork chops and cleaning up entrails.

They send their children to local schools -- which added seven bilingual teachers -- and attend services at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, now offering Sunday Mass in Spanish.

In 1990, there were some 40 Hispanics in Crete and 10 years later there were some 800. Now, Rev. Julius Tvrdy at Sacred Heart estimates they probably number 1,700.


Frustration with immigration among native Nebraskans proved a significant factor in the May 9 Republican governor's primary and could figure in the Senate race between Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson and political newcomer Pete Ricketts.

One issue in the governor's race was legislation to make children of illegal immigrants eligible for in-state tuition at Nebraska schools.

GOP Gov. Dave Heineman vetoed the measure, saying it would give children of illegal immigrants a break that others did not receive.

Rival Tom Osborne -- the legendary University of Nebraska football coach and three-term congressman -- backed supporters of the legislation.

Heineman defeated Osborne in the primary.


Nelson, a moderate Democrat seeking a second term, has adopted a hard line on immigration, even opposing a bipartisan Senate bill with increased border security that also contains a guest worker program and a shot at citizenship for many illegal immigrants. His office says Nelson's own proposal would increase border security, but not include a guest worker program or a path to citizenship.

Republican Ricketts opposes amnesty for illegal immigrants but says they should be able to get residency if they pay a fine, go through a criminal background check, have a job, pay taxes and learn to speak English.

Nebraska is a solidly Republican state -- President Bush won with 66 percent of the vote in 2004. Nelson's Republican colleague in the Senate, Chuck Hagel, was an outspoken supporter of the Senate measure.


There is more. Hagel would have a different position if he were up for reelection. He is looking like a RINO on this issue. Nelson appears to be more in touch on the issue. Hopefully, Ricketts can take this issue out of the election.


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