Residents voice concern over immigration issues

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 17, 2003

There is another side to the immigration issue in Austin.

A growing number of citizens are concerned with the real costs of importing workers to the community.

On Sunday, a group of them met at Austin American Legion Post No. 91 to discuss their frustrations.

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A state senator came to the meeting and listened to the citizens express their concerns.

Despite pleas from organizers to "deal with facts only," subjective opinion soon took over the discussion.

Kermit Thomas, a member of Post No. 91, welcomed the group of 40 or more people to the Sunday afternoon session.

Paul Westrum of Albert Lea, made his opinion clear from the start. "I work on my own. I'm not on anyone's payroll."

Then, Westrum detailed how for the last eight years he has traveled the Upper Midwest to learn about immigration's impact on rural America and to express his views.

Westrum confined his presentation to facts. He listed numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau detailing the number of immigrants into America before 1965 and afterwards. A change in the law by Congress in 1965 has opened the flood gates to immigration and businesses have capitalized on the change to hire "cheap labor" and increased profits, according to Westrum.

Westrum showed a video, which, in part, offered more proof to substantiate his theory.

Focusing on Roy Beck, an environmental journalist, the video showed how human development and population growth are threatening the natural resources.

The point was reiterated that immigration policy has allowed the number of legal and illegal aliens to grow unchecked.

The pricetag can be measured in the number of schools, streets, waste water treatment plants, housing, day care, wage-subsidy programs, medical assistance and food shelve assistance that society is paying for the immigrants, he said.

The environmental journalist also worried about the impact of human development on "our biodiversity, wetlands, ag land and natural resources."

Beck also deflated the argument that America can help Third World nations. Instead, Beck said on film, America is contributing to the drain of Third World nations' skilled as well as unskilled workers.

Then, the meeting turned into a free-wheeling forum.

Don Hanson, owner of the White Whale business, deplored last week's series of press conferences and meetings to extol the growth of immigrants in Austin.

But he also observed, "If anyone here hates people of color, they're at the wrong meeting."

Hanson claimed he has been denied access to public information by local officials, including health officials, the Third Judicial District Court, public safety offices, the Welcome Center, which assists immigrants with city and county tax assistance and others.

Hanson also said, when "politicians say growth equals prosperity it's a myth."

Hanson said failing to address unchecked immigration's negative impacts on a small community is a "formula for disaster."

Also speaking was Vaughn Bothun, who ran unsuccessfully as an Austin city council candidate last fall.

Rob Morgan, a Vietnam Era veteran, who has lived in Austin for three years, told of job-seeking woes in California due to employers giving preference to people of color.

"I see the writing on the wall for Austin," Morgan said. "We need to protect our way of life."

At that point, the forum widened with opinion.

Robert and Margaret Clark spoke out about their concerns.

Westrum said he received several invitations to offer a counter-point to last week's Apex Austin meeting and other "glowing" reports of immigrants in Austin.

"They're all do-gooders who don't know the reality of the situation," said Robert Clark, a long-time Lutheran Brotherhood volunteer.

As the comments grew in intensity, Austin businessman Hanson said, "What do we want? More crime? More jails? Or less criminals?"

Olgar Himle attempted words of moderation, reminding the audience, "We all came from someplace else."

State Sen. Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin, was the only politician to attend the meeting.

"They are obviously upset about immigration issues and I came here today to hear some of their concerns," he said.

The organizers announced another meeting will be scheduled in April.

Lee Bonorden can be contacted at 434-2232 or by e-mail at