The spirit of immigrants Finding jobs: Foreign-born workers often conquer obstacles that others seek to avoid.

April 23, 1996

A RAID LAST month by U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service officers led to the arrest of 12 illegal immigrants working at a direct-mail company in Columbia. The incident seemed strange to those of us who have come to associate undocumented immigrants with sprawling farms and big-city sweat shops.

But INS officials say recent arrivals to this country, legal and illegal, go where the jobs are. And, increasingly, the jobs are in America's suburbs, where landscaped residential subdivisions make room for secluded warehouses and light manufacturing plants that often beg for unskilled labor. Such places offer the type of work that even someone with limited command of the English language can perform.

Spanish is commonly heard at ADVO, the company that was raided. Officials estimate half of its 220 employees were born in Central American nations. Half the 250 summer workers at East Coast Ice Cream Novelties in Laurel are similarly foreign-born, some coming from Ghana, India and other Asian nations.

Although foreign immigrants account for 8 percent of the population growth in Howard County, the high price of housing means many of the foreign-born workers can't afford to live there. Some that do have found ways to combine households to reduce expenses. Others live in nearby communities that aren't as expensive and commute. If public transit isn't available, they scrape up money to buy a car.

The same spirit that caused these immigrants to come to this country in search of opportunity isn't about to be deterred by the price of an apartment or difficulties finding transportation to work. Thousands of natural-born Americans living in urban environments such as Baltimore exhibit that same zeal to find work, wherever it may be. But many have lost the can-do zest that literally built this nation.

Think about it. Some people are traveling thousands of miles, leaving everything they know, sometimes risking arrest for entering this nation illegally, just to get a job stuffing envelopes in Columbia. While others, who have never lived more than 20 miles away, won't check a bus schedule to see whether they could get to a job. Where is the leadership to change that? America needs to transplant the zeal of its immigrants to the rest of us.

Pub Date: 4/23/96

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