Small Town on the Front Line of Immigration Wars

Duplin County, N.C., is 1,500 miles from the Mexico border, but it's one of the flash points in America's immigration wars.

Its furniture store is now a "muebleria," and there is no need to speak English at the tiny market.

Immigration has exploded in North Carolina. The Latino population has grown more than 1,000 percent over the last 30 years.

Twenty years ago, Bernardo Antonio was one of the first to arrive.

"It's easy for a Spanish-speaking person to come here and get to work," he said.

Local farmers and businesses in Duplin County need the immigrant labor but think illegal immigrants drain resources.

"People that are here who have been here for years and paid taxes, it's caused a burden on them," said Tommy Potter, a local resident.

"Let 'em come legal. Those that are here illegal, shoot 'em. … Get 'em on a bus, do whatever, get rid of 'em," said Emell Coggens, a local resident.

Conservative talk radio host Sean Hannity has been vocal about immigration and says controlling the borders is integral to American national security. He supports the proposed immigration reform that comes before the Senate today. Those changes include proposals to build a wall along the Mexican border and make it a felony to be in the country illegally.

"The message we ought to send is that America will control its own borders," he said. "We can reform the immigration process. We can allow in as many people as we want. … For me, this is about security, issue one, issue two and issue three."

Hannity said the United States should also better control the Canadian border to prevent enemies from entering.

American Opportunities

If it's passed, the immigration reform bill would make the 10 million to 12 million illegal immigrants felons. Sending them back to their native lands could be a huge blow to the economy.

Yet few people will do the work that Antonio does. He spends a good part of his morning pulling carcasses from a chicken house.

"We don't come here to take jobs away," he said. "We come here to do what Americans can't do."

"The Hispanics, most are doing jobs that, that mostly I think the black population won't do," said John Williams, the owner of a local laundromat.

An estimated three-quarters of the newest Latino immigrants here are illegal, and local leaders are frustrated.

"Any business that knowingly hires an illegal alien should be fined, and it should be a substantial fine," said Win Batten, mayor of Warsaw, N.C.

But there is also acceptance in Duplin County. The immigrants are not going away, and, if they did, Jim Harris, the president of the chamber of commerce, said the local economy could crumble.

"I think it would be struggling," he said.

Hannity said that his grandparents came to the United States legally and he believes in immigration.

"When you see people fighting to come to this country, it speaks to how great this country is," he said.

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