Central Valley farm region reacts to Obama immigration reform
Yet the area is heavily dependent on the farming industry, which has hailed the latest immigration reform proposals.
The division was evident in the lunch crowd at Cope’s Knotty Pine Cafe in Bakersfield, where patron Randy Hubble said the nation’s estimated 11 million illegal immigrants don’t need a path to citizenship -- they need to be sent home.
“It’s pretty simple. Put them on the bus, and put them back where they came from,” said Hubble, 55, who works in construction. Hubble’s friend, Don, who would only give his first name, agreed: “We already have an immigration law, and we need to enforce it. That’s the end of the conversation, really.”
If McCarthy supports a version of Obama’s plan, he will alienate voters like Hubble.
But the views of other Knotty Pine diners, even those who identified themselves as strong Romney supporters, were more nuanced.
Kyle Steinberg, a Caltrans supervisor and a Republican who voted for Romney, said he could support a path to citizenship as long as immigrants became part of mainstream America and don’t cling to their native cultures.
“If they’re here, that’s fine," Steinberg said. "They just need to accept our way of life and not try to make this into Mexico.”
Bakersfield, while located in a heavily Republican region, is also nearly 50% Latino. Steinberg’s co-worker, Ramiro Aguilar, is the son of migrant farm workers, and helped his parents in the fields starting from age 5. His parents came to California illegally in the 1950s but eventually became American citizens.
“If they’re willing to work and be productive, they should have the opportunity to prove themselves,” said Aguilar, 53, also a Caltrans supervisor.
Dennis McDonnell, a retired schoolteacher and a Democrat, said he wished all illegal immigrants could be sent home. He worried that an amnesty would create a flood of illegal border crossers hoping that they, too, will eventually gain legal status.
“Too many people forgot what the ‘il’ in ‘illegal’ means –- it means ‘not,’ ” he said.
McConnell says he nonetheless could support a legalization plan provided there are many strings attached -- deporting all 11 million illegal immigrants isn’t feasible, he said.
Listening to Obama’s speech Tuesday while his wife got her hair done, McConnell decided that the combination of paying back taxes, learning English and going to the back of the line constituted acceptable reform.
William Mashburn voted for Romney but is strongly in favor of the Senate bipartisan committee’s immigration proposal. He believes that wages have been depressed because illegal immigrants settle for less –- a problem that could be alleviated if workers gain legal status and are less vulnerable to exploitation.
“If they became citizens, it would eliminate that, which is good for them and for the prosperity of the country,” said Mashburn, 62, a small-business owner.
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-- Cindy Chang in Bakersfield
Photo: President Obama speaks about immigration reform at Del Sol High School in Las Vegas. Credit: Leila Navidi / EPA