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By Robert Pembroke

There was a heartbreaking picture in the local daily newspaper that showed a mother, Maria Santiago Garcia, with her four children waiting in the Salt Lake City Airport on Christmas Day. She was about to begin her exodus to Guatemala and she was taking her four American-born children — ages 11, 9, 5 and 3 — with her. Garcia is an undocumented Utah immigrant and she was being deported.

Two weeks ago, my wife came home from church and told me how our pastor had spent the night in a vigil for the mother and her four children and I didn’t do one darn thing about it.

I have just finished a column about how critical it is to our economy that we keep the 11 million undocumented immigrants in our country. They hold 8.4 million jobs, at mostly minimum wage or lower, that American employers are going to have a very hard time filling is all the undocumented immigrants are sent home.

We remodeled our patio a few years back and the landscape contractor told me that he could not hire American citizens because the work is too hard and the wages are too low. Other landscape contractors were hiring undocumented immigrants and he was having trouble competing with them. Even if he did find enough legal workers, he couldn’t keep up with his competition because he had to pay higher wages than they did.

In order to compete, our landscape contractor went to the Mexican Consulate in California and secured work visas for the nine workers he needed. He then went to Mexico and escorted his employees back to Salt Lake City. Some of his employees brought their families to Utah and they all returned to Mexico after the landscaping season. I applaud his creativity and the fact that he was determined not to break the law. We will remain a customer of his for as long as he wants. 

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders locked horns at the Democratic Convention in Florida. In order to capture the American Latino vote, they vowed a more humane immigration policy and spent most of the time criticizing Trump. What they didn’t  do was spend very much time discussing what to do about the problem. Should Floridians be concerned about the issue? You bet they should, because these undocumented immigrants pay $588 million annually in state and local taxes.

I have been pondering what can be done about the situation of the undocumented immigrants and have come up with a couple of thoughts: First, employers of all sizes that depend on undocumented immigrants must man the barricades, take to the streets and raise a fuss to get our political leaders to do the right thing. Second, those of us who create content for the media must constantly keep the  issue in front of the public.

Donald Trump is flat-out wrong when he not only calls for building a wall, but also for deporting undocumented immigrants. Instead, he must embrace our undocumented immigrant population and give them a path to citizenship, if they desire.

I have never been a single-issue voter, but after watching the plight of Garcia and others like her, I am now going to be one.

“Well, it’s not the best [Christmas]” The Salt Lake Tribune quoted Sarai Reyes, Garcis’s 9-year-old daughter, “because we have to go, and what if our new country where we are going is really mean and bad? What if people are not nice?” 

Robert Pembroke is the former chairman and CEO of Pembroke’s Inc. in Salt Lake City. He can be reached at pembroke894@gmail.com.