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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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'Acrimony' toward illegal workers

Marshalltown, Iowa

Iowa wasn’t where Rick Hernandez thought he would end up crossing illegally from his homeland of Mexico to the U.S.

In fact, when Hernandez at 16 years old accepted an offer to work in Marshalltown he had no idea where it was. He had only been in the country a year, coming in 1986 to harvest crops in California and Washington.

Rick Hernandez belongs to Elim Lutheran
Rick Hernandez belongs to Elim Lutheran Church, Marshalltown, Iowa, the town where he came 20 years ago. As a teenager he entered the U.S. illegally in 1986. In 1990 he got a work visa, and he now owns a painting company.
The work Hernandez was promised in Iowa wound up not paying, leaving him broke and stuck in the middle of the country.

Still, there were options. The Immigration Act of 1990, signed into law by President George H.W. Bush, allowed more immigrants into the country and more work visas, one of which went to Hernandez.

That same year in Marshalltown, John Allen, then pastor of Elim, one of three ELCA congregations, celebrated a Spanish-language Christmas liturgy for about a dozen residents—the beginning of a Latino congregation that grew rapidly to 200 families.

But if Hernandez, now a member of Elim, had arrived recently in Marshalltown—a city that due to its meat-packing plants saw a quick rise in Latino immigrants, both legal and not—his life might have gone differently.


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