An American Family 

"Amamos Idaho"

The Gonzalez family (left to right): 2-year-old grandson Angel, patriarch Desiderio, matriarch Maricela, daughter Marta and 1-year-old grandson Mateo.

George Prentice

The Gonzalez family (left to right): 2-year-old grandson Angel, patriarch Desiderio, matriarch Maricela, daughter Marta and 1-year-old grandson Mateo.

"Trabajamos en los campos."

Desiderio Gonzalez and wife Maricela smiled as they told Boise Weekly, "We work in the fields." The couple picks crops 12 hours per day in Canyon County farmlands in order to provide for other families' dinner tables--before their own.

But Maricela's voice softened and she looked to the ground when she shared her recent misfortune.

"Recientemente sufri un accidente en el trabajo," she said.

BW needed an interpreter, so we waved Gloria Jimenez closer to the conversation. Jimenez, daughter of immigrants and a 2012 graduate of the University of Idaho, is a legal assistant at Boise-based Andrade Legal, working with scores of immigrant clients, many undocumented. Desiderio and Maricela preferred not to discuss their own status.

"Maricela said, 'I recently had an accident at work,'" Jimenez interpreted.

The legal assistant continued to serve as BW's interpreter for the remainder of our conversation.

"I was picking peaches," said Maricela. "I fell from the stairs and I suffered an injury, which my employer doesn't want to pay for, or cover any of my insurance."

Trying to keep from sobbing, Maricela's voice began to crack.

"Right now, I'm unable to do any work. He's the main supporter of the family," she said, looking up to catch Desiderio's eye.

One of their daughters, Marta Rodriguez, stood nearby with her own children. Again, BW asked Jimenez to serve as our interpreter.

"Tengo tres hijos [I have three children]," said Rodriguez. "Dos estan deshabilitadas [Two of them are disabled]."

Rodriguez said she desperately needed a driver's license to take her children to medical appointments, but has had little luck with Idaho's legal system.

"An Idaho judge told me he didn't care if I didn't have a license and the only identification I should care about is identification for my children," she said. "It's essential for me to have a driver's license. All of my family works every day in the fields from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m."

Meanwhile, the Gonzalezes' other daughter—she's 14—attends public school in Caldwell.

"My daughter would like to continue with her studies," said Desiderio. "And she tells us that she would like to be an interpreter one day to help others, like us, who have a language barrier."

Jimenez, who had interpreted the entire conversation for BW, beamed a big smile.

Education, health care, unemployment—the themes are all too familiar for any Idahoan. But when tangled into the complexity of immigration, the Gonzalez family lives in a constant state of frustration, and often sadness.

And since moving to the state of Idaho, that's a familiar state for Norma Duarte, immigration reform activist.

"I was once an immigrant here; now I'm a legal citizen," she said. "But there are a lot of immigrants who are afraid to talk to you about their reality. They're afraid of reprimands."

She added that her story is not unlike countless dreamers who came to America.

"We're your partners and co-workers. We sit next to you in church," said Duarte. "You don't need to be afraid of immigrants. We're here for survival. I ask people to please, please support this new reform."

The "new reform" is the much debated 844-page document that has surfaced in the U.S. Congress, hailed as the nation's latest bipartisan effort to fix a broken immigration system. The far-reaching legislation would tighten border security, increase visas for foreign workers and toughen penalties against American employers who hire undocumented workers.

Idaho Republican Congressman Raul Labrador is currently in the thick of negotiations surrounding the reform. He's part of an eight-member bipartisan group of U.S. House members tasked with pushing through an appropriate immigration plan.

"We believe we will soon agree on a reasonable, comprehensive plan to finally secure our borders and strengthen our economy (with a tough but fair process that respects the rule of law so immigrants can contribute to our country," reads a statement from the eight House members, including Labrador. "Americans want to see the nation's broken immigration system fixed."

But the proposed fix is complex: over a 13-year journey, undocumented immigrants who have not committed a serious crime would be able to secure work permits and ultimately apply to become U.S. citizens. Additionally, new guest worker programs would be established for low-skilled professions. Employers would have five years to verify the legal status of all of those workers. Farm workers and young adults in college who may have been brought into the United States as children would be eligible for an expedited path to legal status within five years.

"And all of these categories make up the bulk of the 11.5 million undocumented individuals that we're talking about," said Maria Andrade, Idaho immigration attorney and owner of Andrade Legal.

Canyon County farmworker Fernando Perez told BW that he sees the faces of many of the nation's undocumented workers; they're his friends.

"They asked me to come here and talk to you; they don't feel supported," he said through an interpreter. "Believe me, many families are suffering due to a lack of immigration reform. They want to do the right thing with documentation. And our economy is hurting. If they can get a permit to work, they'll buy cars, they'll buy homes, they'll put their money back into this community."

Brent Olmstead couldn't agree more. As director of Milk Producers of Idaho, he said long-overdue reform makes good business sense.

"The current system is broken. It doesn't work for employers--who I represent--and it doesn't work for employees," Olmstead said. "There are more than 19,000 dairy workers in Idaho and a large percentage of those are foreign-born labor."

Olmstead said it was not unusual for farmworkers and their families to "live under the radar."

"Let's take a family of five. Four are here legally and one is here undocumented. And they're in fear," he said. "That person and spouse are afraid of even going to a grocery store together in fear of being arrested and tearing their family apart."

Asked if the November 2012 re-election of President Barack Obama was the ultimate game changer in the struggle to push forward immigration reform in Congress--Obama secured 71 percent of the Hispanic vote--Olmstead agreed that it "was a tipping point."

"But it had really been building for years," he added. "The business community has been talking about this for a long time. It costs over $23,000 to deport a single individual from this country. It would take $250 billion to deport undocumented immigrants. It just doesn't make sense."

Desiderio and Maricela told BW that they look forward to the day their 14-year-old daughter graduates and, perhaps, becomes an interpreter. Of a more immediate nature, they pray for appropriate services for their disabled grandchildren.

However, despite their daily struggles, the smiles returned to their faces when the Gonzalezes said how much they love their home.

"Amamos Idaho."

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