I’d like you to meet my friends

For 19 years, I have lived with the Spanish-speaking persons of Western North Carolina. I have been on the farms and in the factories with these persons in almost every mountain county. I have worshipped the Lord with them in church houses, in farmhouses, in trailers and under the stars of the beautiful Blue Ridge sky.

Now I wish to express, with personal thanksgiving, my observations about those who have served our larger community well, and for whom my commitment has always been to move them to a legal status in our great nation.

First of all, my undocumented friends have given their best to build up this country. They have cut our lettuce, planted and harvested our beans, picked our tomatoes. They have even cared for and gently brought down from the ridges our glorious Christmas trees. They have planted and picked our delicious apples and worked long hours to make frozen juices to refresh our warm summer evenings.

My friends have given many fingers, even hands and arms, and their backs, as they have used modern machines to build dams, houses and roadways. I want them to know that I am truly sorry for every accident. I am very grateful for their willingness to use chemicals to protect our crops and our fruit trees, at a real risk to their own health.

Some call my friends “the illegals,” even when they have tried so hard and have spent such large sums of money attempting to become legal or documented. People do not know how many times these friends have paid for promises and have even been cheated with false papers. They do not know about the extraordinary number of scams suffered in seeking to work legally in the United States.

Other persons call my friends “the illegals” and infer that they do not pay taxes. I have seen hundreds of check stubs over the years where taxes were withheld fully—as for any American. According to all the studies I have seen, my friends have paid their way at the gas pump, at the grocery store, at the used car lot, for Social Security, for federal and state [tax] withholding, and even at the funeral home.

I thank my friends for their hard work, for the dangers they face bravely, for their desire to build a better America and to build up their own lives and families. As a rule, they are not criminals or felons, but God-fearing persons who want the best for the United States—a special class of persons who give their health and strength to keep our hotels, our laundries and our nursing homes sparkling clean. They are the cooks who prepare many of our appetizing meals. They give their full strength during long hours to keep the economy of our land running smoothly.

I hope U.S. citizens will recognize the hard work and positive contributions to our beautiful and vast land and will renew the opportunity in our nation’s law for these friends of mine to become more than “the illegals.”

— Russell B. Hilliard Sr.

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