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Undocumented aliens 'key' to Huron County's agriculture

Zoe Greszler • Updated Mar 6, 2017 at 11:37 PM

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Immigration has become a widespread topic of conversation recently as discussions of ban work their way into homes, work places and schools. 

But is this just a national concern, or is this an issue that hits closer to home, affecting even Huron County residents? Local officials say its worth our attention here locally as well.

Immigration ban and Huron County

Huron County is home to an estimated 1,661 of the more than 480,000 foreign-born residents in Ohio, according to a 2015 census report and a new report by New American Economy, a bipartisan group of more than 500 mayors and business leaders who support immigration reforms to help create jobs.

“I know that our area has a strong immigrant population and I’m a believer in what immigration has done for our country and community,” said Sue Lesch, Norwalk Catholic School chief advancement officer, former Norwalk mayor and chairwoman of the Huron County Democratic party.

Immigrants can be found in every kind of job, from builders to college professors, and they play a crucial role in health care and the science, technology, engineering and mathematics — or STEM — fields, the report said.

Despite making up only 4.2 percent of Ohio's population, immigrants represented 13.9 percent of all STEM workers in the state in 2014, the latest available data, the group said. Similarly, in 2016, more than 1 in 4 physicians in Ohio were graduates of a foreign medical school, a likely sign that they were born outside the U.S.

While some in the area may think immigrant residents create a large percentage of the community population, Huron County immigration lawyer Richard Herman said Ohio, and Huron County, have “relatively low” percentages compared to the national average of about 12 percent.  

Nationally, immigrants who graduate from college are 17.2 percent more likely to hold a graduate degree than natives. Also, a high number have something less than a bachelor's degree, allowing them to fill positions at the high and low ends of the workforce that might otherwise remain unfilled, according to New American Economy.

“They say 40 percent of undocumented immigrants come here, educate themselves or their kids and they wind up being our working professionals — lawyers, surgeons, doctors, they could be your next door neighbors,” Herman said, adding “foreign-born resident” and “immigrant” are terms that apply to people of more than just a Latino background and heritage, and in fact includes “a lot” of Asian, English, Italian, Irish and other European nationalities.  

“(Immigration) enhances a community and builds the economy,” Lesch said.

“Historically, that’s our history. The Germans, Italians, English, Irish they all brought their cultures and traditions and ways of doing things to our country. Now we all become Irish on St. Patty’s Day. I think our negative response to immigration is historic. There has always been a resistance to this for our country. The tradition is of how a hard working family just wants the dream we all have here, to live and work safely and raise a family.

“I think we need to take a deep breath and look at the good that comes. I understand the fear some people have. But I think if we look at the statistics, the benefits are huge. ... We have benefited as a nation, as a state and here locally.”

Widespread impact

Herman said there is no need to fear immigration.

“I always tell people, just look at these folks as your neighbors,” he said. “They’re hard-working people, family people, people that work very, very hard and most of them have U.S. born children, citizens. Some say ‘Let’s deport them all,’ but they don’t realize that impacts the children, U.S. children. That’s not the Christian thing to do and it’s not the community thing to do.”

Beyond morals, Lesch and Herman said there could be local economic repercussions to mass deportation as well.

“If these people were all removed from the U.S., that’s going to take a lot of money,” Herman said. “As a nation, we spend $16 billion each year (for immigration police). That’s more than all federal law enforcement combined. No one is against gang bangers or drug dealers and but going after the family people, that’s bad use of the money.

“Think if Norwalk, for example, deported its undocumented individuals. ... The Latino community is huge in Norwalk. Look at the economy piece. What would that mean to the economy, the housing and tax collecting?”

Agricultural impact

Lesch said in the community as a public official and as a member of her local church, she has seen the population of foreign-born residents growing, including “undocumented-aliens” she said continue to benefit Huron County’s economy and farms.

“I have a lot of folks and families I know that (are foreign-born),” she said. “We have seen a growing population of Hispanic members in our church and in the area and they are good people. Much of our growing population is Hispanic.You can see the rich family and faith life is huge among their culture. It’s a model for all if us to follow really.

“Our farmers in our community rely on their help,” Lesch said. “If you visit with them you understand how key they are to the agricultural community and have had a big impact on our community. We all benefit from the crops.”

“Farmers of Huron County are upset because there’s no work force, or at least there are severe drops in workers. At times farmers had to let crops drop in the field because they just didn’t have the help they needed,” Herman said.

“The new presidency is all about appeasing his base. His base though seems to not really understand immigration and how complex it is. They don’t know how intertwined into the legal system and how important these undocumented people are to our economy.”

Where to go from here

So as a community what steps need to be taken?

“I think we need to meet with people and go over plans and go over the facts,” Lesch said. “I think that would decrease the fear people feel about the situation. Not having a broad-based immigration policy created fear. We have a lot of people that been in our community for year and new families hoping for broad-based immigration. It is terrifying how fast everything has been moving (under the new presidency) and it’s terrifying families and children. We really need to look after the children especially. In the mean time, let’s slow down.”

Herman said as part of his law practice, he’s participating in clinics across the state, advising people of their constitutional rights, even if they’re undocumented, and is looking at the possibility of holding one such session in Willard in the spring.

“They have rights,” he said. “They should be educated on what those rights are and they shouldn’t panic. They should have a plan. They should research how to legalize their status, if not now then maybe down the line.”

Herman is available for those seeking more information or who have any questions at his Norwalk office at 26 1/ 2 W. Main St. or at 567-281-4077.

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