Originally created 01/12/04

Horry County immigrants laud Bush's immigration proposal



MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. -- President Bush's proposal to overhaul the nation's immigration laws has been well received with Horry County immigrants.

Miriam Eaddy, a Hispanic nail technician in Myrtle Beach, says it is hard to describe how hard life is in Mexico.

"They come here to work, send money back home and give their families a better life," Eaddy said. "They live in constant fear of being picked up by immigration officials. They are leery. They live in hiding."

The plan would allow as many as 8 million workers who are in the United States illegally to become legal by joining a new guest-worker program. Guest workers could stay for three years, with the possibility of extensions.

"Bush's plan recognizes the fact that they are here," said Min Alexander, executive director of Latinoamericanos en Accion, a group working to improve the lives of Hispanics in Horry County. "It makes things above board and organized. These folks are here because they come from horrible situations and circumstances. That's why the doors should be opened."

The proposal, announced last week, won't become law unless Congress approves it.

Bertin Torres, 47, works as an oyster Shucker at Lloyd's Oyster Company in North Carolina. He makes 70 cents per pint and came to the United States for work in 1978.

"I think this is a fine plan, because they could get their pay," Torres said. "They could go see their family anytime."

Bertin Campos, who came to the U.S. from Altamira, Mexico, says he needs to make money to take care of his family. He said most people work in Mexico from May to November and are paid about $10 a day.

He says Hispanics only want what Americans want - a chance at a better life.

"Wherever Mexicans are working, we are working hard jobs," said Campos, 32.

Critics of Bush's plan say it will cause lower wages and cost American jobs.

Supporter groups disagree.

"Hispanics are working in tobacco and other jobs Americans don't want anyway," Miriam Berrouet, Latinoamericanos en Accion's chairwoman, said.

If it wasn't for Mexican workers, "I'd be out of business," says Lloyd Milliken, owner of Lloyd's Oyster Company in Shallotte Point and Holden Beach.

The proposal will help eliminate the exploitation of illegal workers and help them gain fair wages, proponents say.

Still, even supporters said they think many illegal workers may be apprehensive about a new guest-worker program.

"I think there is a fear because there isn't contingency plan," Berrouet said. "They might ask, 'What is going to happen to me after three years are up?' They might be told, 'You have to go back."'

Alexander says at least the plan extends the invitation to work.

"The plan says, 'You need us, and you believe in our dream. You are welcome," Alexander said.