Debating immigration in Kennett Square

    The town in Chester County has lots of immigrants, legal and not, who work at mushroom farms.

    This weekend, mushroom lovers will flock to Kennett Square’s 25th Annual Mushroom Festival. Mushroom farming has attracted lots of immigrant workers to that corner of Chester County. Much of the current debate over immigration has centered on Arizona because of it’s controversial law SB 1070. Here is how the issue is playing in
    Kennett Square. [audio:1009MUSHWEB.mp3]

    Juvenal Gonzalez' ice cream shop

    The town’s mushroom industry draws visitors, but it’s also attracted many immigrants looking for jobs.

    A recent poll shows Pennsylvania voters approve of the Arizona Immigration Law by a 2-to-1 margin. Nearly half of respondents say they want to see similar legislation in Pennsylvania.

    And if the Keystone state adopts a law similar to Arizona’s, Kennett Square could be in the spotlight.

    Judy Dinning and her grandchildren

    Sitting inside the Police station, Kennett Square police chief Edward Zunino says he knows a lot of crimes are not reported by people of questionable status in Kennett Square because they’re afraid of having contact with the police – any contact – even if they were crime victims.

    Zunino says a law like Arizona’s would make some immigrants even less likely to report crime.

    “What we find is people in the Mexican community usually are victims of theft and robberies. They’re considered easy prey by many criminals because the general feeling is they’re probably illegal and not going to report it to police.”

    Zunino says he’s troubled by the Arizona law. He says he would like to see more federal involvement on the immigration front.

    A worker at Juvenal Gonzalez' ice cream store

    “We have cooperated with immigration officials in the past who have done raids on migrant worker camps and it’s worked out fine but we haven’t seen that in a few years and. I think it’s a problem for the people that are here that have came to this country from Mexico that have gone through the process and all the time, trouble, and money spent to become legal. And then here you have an illegal come up here that would probably offers to do the job for less money. It’s not fair to them.”

    On Main Street, heading home to nearby West Grove with his two young sons, Ed Piskorski seconds that.

    “If they feel that they need to check the id of the person that is in front of them – i feel like if they’re here illegally then send em back! If they don’t do the proper paperwork and they’re too lazy to do it or they’re here illegally they should go back to their home.”

    The significance of a law like Arizona’s is impossible to ignore for Ice Cream Shop owner Juvenal Gonzalez. He’s originally from Mexico and used to work in the mushroom industry.

    Standing inside his Kennett Square shop full of sweets, Gonzalez says the influx of immigrants has helped revive the area. He says relations between recent Spanish-speaking immigrants, and other residents are pretty calm. But if a law like Arizona’s was passed in Pennsylvania, it won’t stay that way.

    “It would be frightening – for the business and for everybody here in the area. Here right now it’s quiet, nice, everybody free like, which is a good feeling for us to be free. because everybody come to work and i think it’s not going to be a good idea for the business and for the community at all.”

    Gonzalez says people who oppose immigrants need to remember that they travel a long distance to come here to do jobs no one else wants to do – like mushroom farming.

    Sitting out front on a bench with her grandchildren enjoying some ice cream, Judy Dinning echoes that sentiment.

    “If we didn’t have the immigrants, we probably wouldn’t have a lot of the labor that we need. Because at least they’re willing to work.”

    A 17-year old Kennett Square resident, who was born in Mexico, stops to say Arizona-style legislation amounts to legalizing discrimination. He says he knows young guys like him: with dark skin and hair, and baggy pants would get stopped and forced to show identification. And he points out, he is in America legally.

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