Tahoe workers chime in on immigration policies | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Tahoe workers chime in on immigration policies

Susan Wood

Dan Thrift / Tahoe Daily Tribune / Sierra Recovery Center Counselor Rosio Arroyo works at her office Monday.

Rosio Arroyo’s typical day starts at 6 a.m. and ends after 10 p.m. This is a small price to pay to live in paradise for the working mother of two young girls.

She works full time as a counselor at Sierra Recovery Center. After work, she picks up her girls from school then attends Lake Tahoe Community College, taking evening classes to improve her leadership and communication skills.

“I’m getting morphed into this culture,” the 41-year-old woman said. Apparently, the training is paying off.

Arroyo is one of thousands of Latino workers and sympathizers who weighed in on the role of the ethnic group to workforces all over the country. Many people took to the streets this weekend and on Monday to express their dismay over the proposed sweeping immigration reform.

Arroyo, who has lived in South Lake Tahoe for 11 years, wants to break out of her and her partner’s one-bedroom apartment someday. He makes “a decent wage,” but it takes a lot more than her $10.45-an-hour job to buy a home. That’s her goal.

“It’s hard. It takes two of us – and even then, it’s not enough to raise a family,” she said.

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Arroyo isn’t complaining. She knows the alternative after living earlier in Jalisco, Mexico. People are desperate for jobs and want to work hard for the wage. Some of them have ended up in South Lake Tahoe, where a recent study estimates a quarter of the 23,609 residents are Hispanic. The study also figures 60 percent work in service jobs, the backbone of the tourism industry.

That’s the message Arroyo and other Latino sympathizers wanted to convey Monday – in a week set aside to honor Mexican American labor activist Cesar Chavez.

As the Senate debated a controversial immigration reform bill Monday, Latino rights supporters protested the wide-sweeping changes of the proposed law on the streets of America. Some of those streets stretched over South Lake Tahoe.

The House passed HR 418 last month. Now the Senate may be picking apart aspects of the proposed legislation intended to update national security measures. The bill allows the federal government to complete a 700-mile fence along the Mexican border.

“I don’t think that will make a difference. I think people will keep dying across the border to get a better life,” Arroyo said. “As long as the United States has jobs for hard workers, people will come.”

Los Mexicanos waiter Paco Velasco wonders why the federal government would go to the extent of rounding up 12 million undocumented workers if they’re working hard.

“Why only us?” he asked, citing other immigrant groups.

Judith Fernandez-Ziegel, a restaurant patron, had a theory of her own. She thinks it’s a diversion from problems in Iraq.

“These California Mexicans are now an integral part of the state,” she said.

The main thrust of the efforts should be placed on adequately training workers, El Dorado County Supervisor Norma Santiago of District 5 said Monday.

Tahoe’s supervisor has learned that more Hispanics have been hired by the county, including herself after November’s election.

“The truth of the matter is, they come here for jobs. If there wasn’t a market, they wouldn’t. These people take the low paying jobs. We have to embrace this workforce. It doesn’t matter where they come from,” she said.

That’s part of the job of the El Dorado County Community Foundation, a nonprofit group that secures funding sources to help improve the quality of life for county citizens.

The foundation is trying to secure more funding to add to its services used by many in the Hispanic community – anything form mentoring to counseling. On the West Slope, the county has seen an influx of Hispanics take agricultural jobs.

“They’re a very significant part of the population of this area. The political bent about their role here is beside the point,” said Steve Healy, foundation executive director.

The foundation wrote a report in 2004 called “Adelante,” which means moving forward, highlighting services that may address the issues surrounding a UC Davis graduate study on Hispanic life in South Lake Tahoe.

The city Latino Affairs Commission-generated study indicated 30 percent of the students enrolled in Lake Tahoe Unified School District were identified as Latino. The study had noted that many who came out Ameca, Jalisco, liked the safe environment to raise children. But once here, the biggest challenge mentioned in the study was isolation.

Undocumented immigrants indicated in the study they were able “to apply for jobs with false documents.” All employers must have an I-9 form on file for each employee. With this form, the employer is able to verify the employee’s legal presence in the U.S. If the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services discovers an employee has presented false documents, the employer is not held accountable unless they knew they were employing undocumented workers.