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Hard issue: The solution is not just granting amnesty, Peru native says

Published April 9, 2006 12:44 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2006, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Legal immigration'They are breaking the law'

Pedro Gomez is a soft-spoken native of Peru who, unlike many of his Latino friends, believes the United States must secure its porous southern border against the free flow of undocumented immigrants.

Although he has earned American citizenship, he still can identify with those who steal across the U.S. border seeking work. "They are good people only trying for a better life," he says.

Still, the 47-year-old Brigham Young University alum believes it is important that immigrants live within the law so they won't be set apart from the larger American society.

"This is a difficult question. We know they are breaking the law," Gomez says. "But realistically, it's impossible to deport 11 or 12 million people."

The solution is not simply granting them amnesty, he says. Rather, they ought to be afforded temporary permits and the chance to apply for permanent immigrant status.

Immigrating within the law can be tough even for immigrants like Gomez, who comes from a well-educated, middle-class family and worked as a banker in Lima. Mountains of paperwork and legal twists and turns make it far more difficult for uneducated workers.

Recalling one visit to the U.S. consulate, he says, "there were close to 1,000 people there. But only 40 got visas. People were crying because they couldn't get one."

Gomez did get a student visa and followed his sister to BYU, where he earned a bachelor's degree in political science and economics in 1987.

He returned to the United States in 1992 - again on a student visa - and eventually garnered an MBA from Texas A&M University. Along the way, he married a U.S. citizen, attained temporary worker status, filed for permanent legal status and finally won citizenship in 1997.

Gomez supports tenets of legislation proposed by U.S. Sens. Edward Kennedy and John McCain that outline penalties for undocumented workers while providing them legal status on the road to citizenship. He also believes employers ought to shoulder some responsibility for hiring undocumented workers.

But most importantly, he says, the border must be secured. Even then, the United States will continue to be a magnet for immigration.

"When I was in Peru working at the bank, I was doing fine," he says. "But I wanted to come back here because there are more opportunities and a higher standard of living."

Most immigrants, documented or not, he said, are willing to work two jobs, pay taxes and live within the law to escape desperation and poverty.

"If I were living in misery with no job opportunities, I would come [illegally], too," Gomez said. "Many companies take advantage of them and pay them low wages. But when they are paid $5 an hour, it's still a lot of money for them."







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