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McCaleb: Open arms for talented immigrants who respect our laws

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If you needed any more evidence that U.S. immigration law needs a complete overhaul, let me introduce you to Veronica Jones.

A 22-year-old native of Barrie, Ontario, the Canadian citizen came to the U.S. in August 2008 on an academic visa to attend Arizona State University. After working hard for four years, Jones graduated from ASU in May 2012 with a degree in journalism.

While in school, she met and started dating Zach Wilson, a native of Crystal Lake.

With school over and their professional careers in front of them, the couple decided to move closer to Wilson’s family. They found an apartment in McHenry and started searching for work.

Wilson, who received his degree in manufacturing engineering, got a job with a manufacturing company in Lake Geneva, Wis. Jones initially got a reporting internship with Milwaukee Magazine.

Wanting a full-time job and hoping to work closer to home, she applied for and was offered a job with Shaw Media, parent company of the Northwest Herald, in February.

Late last year, Shaw Media decided to launch a new weekly newspaper and website in the Barrington area, a new market for us. Jones was hired as its reporter.

As with any startup, there was some risk involved. There was some established competition for both readers and advertisers in the market, though we felt we could fill a void.

Jones jumped into the project enthusiastically. She spent countless hours introducing herself around town, seeking story ideas, and writing dozens of interesting news stories and features.

Our first edition published March 7, and we’ve delivered a new Barrington Life each Thursday since. It’s been a huge success.

I’ve spent more than 20 years as a professional journalist, about 15 of those as an editor of some sort. Part of an editor’s job is listening to readers. You learn early on that the vast majority of readers who call, write or visit you do so when they’re not happy about something. That’s just a fact of life.

But the complete opposite has been the case with Barrington Life. I’ve heard from a number of readers thanking us for bringing them a truly local newspaper. Jones deserves the credit for much of that.

Upon graduation from Arizona State, Jones received a standard, 12-month extended visa that allowed her to stay and work in the country. The extended visa, she was told by an immigration attorney, usually leads to a more permanent work visa.

In April, Jones traveled to the U.S. Immigration Services office in Port Huron, Mich., to apply for that work visa. There, she was told that, well, she was employed in the wrong field.

Chapter 16 of the North American Free Trade Agreement – yes, that’s NAFTA – establishes certain “preferred” professions that allow immigrants from countries such as Canada to receive work visas.

Had Jones been a technical writer, hotel manager, librarian or psychologist, she would have had little trouble getting a work visa.

Jobs that are science- or math-focused dominate the “preferred” list.

But journalist? Sorry. No green card for you.

I’m not an immigration expert and I couldn’t possibly get into all the minutiae here. (Not that you’d want me to, anyway.) But in my short foray into this topic, I’ve learned that the U.S. also has “preferred” countries from which immigrants should come as well. Citizens of China and Singapore take precedence in the immigration process over many other countries, for example.

I understand the need for immigration laws. We couldn’t possibly accommodate every foreign national who wants to come here, nor should we.

But should we turn away bright professionals who play by the rules, receive their education here, and have no problem finding a decent job after graduation?

There are more than 11 million undocumented workers in this country, many of them working here illegally. Yet Jones – despite following all of the rules – won’t be able to continue in her job effective June 2 until she works out her immigration issues. Thankfully, she won’t be deported as she tries to do just that.

In her final column – final for now, hopefully – in Barrington Life, to publish on Thursday, Jones writes this:

“I didn’t get a degree in math, science or engineering because, frankly, it doesn’t interest me. People who do the jobs in those fields are incredibly important, and I applaud them because I couldn’t do it. But that is where the government’s priorities lie.

“I do, however, think that the role of a journalist is important. People should know what’s going on in their communities. I hope that you can tell from my writing that I am passionate about this job and this community. It has only been a few months, but I have enjoyed every second of getting to know the residents of Barrington.

“I hope to be able to return to Barrington Life in a few months, once I overcome this latest obstacle. ... I won’t be far away, and you still might find me drinking that delicious pomegranate green tea at Cook Street Coffee. It’s been so nice getting to know all of you and thank you for getting Barrington Life off to a great start!”

We wish Jones the best, and are standing by her as she continues to try to get a work visa. Once she does, we plan to bring her back.

In the meantime, we hope that President Barack Obama and Congress are serious about overhauling our convoluted – and, frankly, unfair – immigration policy.

We should be opening our arms – and our borders – to welcome talented, hardworking people such as Jones. Not the opposite.

• • •

American heroes: Monday is Memorial Day, a day when every American should take time to honor those heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

As the newspaper has on every Memorial Day for years, the Northwest Herald on Monday will publish a list of local soldiers who died while fighting for our freedom, from the Civil War through the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Sadly, seven people from McHenry County have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2004. Both wars are officially over, but thousands of troops remain in harm’s way as we continue to help each country with rebuilding efforts.

Keep our active-duty troops in your thoughts and prayers.

And remember always that we live in a free and prosperous country in large part because of the sacrifices made by those who died while protecting our freedoms and way of life.

• Dan McCaleb of Crystal Lake is group editor of Shaw Media’s suburban publications, which includes the Northwest Herald. He can be reached at 815-526-4603, or by email at dmccaleb@shawmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Dan_McCaleb.

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