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KIRSTEN Stewart is not the kind of American that President Bush and the Democratic congressional leadership is likely to bring up as they renew their push for so-called comprehensive immigration reform.What's this? Is the woman some kind of right-wing, xenophobic, racist nut job? Hardly...
Stewart is not the personification of any of the cliches that Bush and the Democratic leadership enjoy tossing about; she is not an impoverished illegal immigrant "living in the shadows." Nor is she a businesswoman who can't seem to find an American willing to work hard for a fair wage.
To the contrary, she is an example of the steep price America pays in integrity when its government refuses to enforce its laws, allowing many of its citizens to violate it with absolute impunity.
Stewart is a landscape professional trying to do the right thing by refusing to hire illegal immigrants — a decision that's effectively putting her out of business.
When she submits a bid to a prospective client, Stewart calculates her labor rate at $15-an-hour or more depending on the job; it's a decent wage with which she knows she can hire American citizens.Stewart says that she was "oblivious" to the illegal immigration problem when she first opened her landscaping business a few years back. So what opened her eyes?
Paying a living wage to her workers is also at the core of the progressive political identity she forged while living in San Francisco.
"I realized that my foreman, who has been in the country a long time, doesn't have any desire to be a citizen. He has such a strong allegiance to Mexico," she says.So Stewart fired the nanny who was giddy about sponging off the American taxpayer via her anchor-baby-in-utero. Stewart stopped using her Viva Mexico foreman who was only too happy to use this country while sending his allegiance (and probably part of his paycheck) back across the border.
But it was Stewart's pregnant nanny from Brazil, also without papers, that pushed her to make a dramatic change.
"She told me that she was so happy that she was having her baby here because (her child) would get a real Social Security number. She told me how surprised she was at all the 'free' neonatal care she was getting and all the other 'free' health services," Stewart says. "That's when the light bulb went off."
And what did Stewart receive for her efforts to respect the laws of this country, and to consider the well-being of her fellow citizens while considering her bottom line as a businesswoman?
Almost immediately, she started losing bids.I wish Kirsten the best with her business, and hope she will manage to find some loyal clients who value her honesty and concern for this country, along with her landscape design skills.
In a bitter irony, Stewart says many of her prospective clients are dyed-in-the-wool leftists who embrace living-wage ordinances and stronger worker's rights laws.
"They will invariably ask me why my labor costs are so high," Stewart says. "I tell them point-blank it is because I only use legal workers, either citizens or legal residents. I've had a few prospects just stare at me silently after I have told them that, like I have done something wrong. Others have just said 'OK, well thanks for the bid.' "
Because, as much as we all throw labels around -- liberal, conservative, progressive, traditionalist, yada, yada, yada -- there is one thing that can (and must) unite us: being American.
That means a whole lot more than just being born or naturalized here. It's the difference between being an American and BEING American.
And that's all the difference in the world.