A human face on immigration debate

Surprise witness at Statehouse came to U.S. illegally

INDIANAPOLIS — Lawmakers studying illegal immigration heard from a surprise witness Wednesday — a Mexican immigrant who paid thousands of dollars to be smuggled into the United States in a car trunk.

Salvador Espinoza said he feared that he would suffocate, packed into the trunk with four other men, before crossing the border.

“It is the worst thing I experienced — probably the worst thing any human can ever experience,” he said.

Now an Indianapolis businessman and U.S. citizen, Espinoza wasn’t on a list of witnesses scheduled to testify during the third of six scheduled meetings of a Senate committee studying immigration.

The scheduled lineup included immigration and workforce experts who talked in abstract terms about the legal and financial consequences of the estimated 93,000 immigrants living illegally in Indiana.

Espinoza put a human face on a flawed immigration system and the complicated work in store for state lawmakers who say they need to address what the federal government won’t.

After hours of detailed but dry testimony from experts, Espinoza appeared to surprise committee members with his emotional description of fleeing his homeland 18 years ago for what he called a “better life in America.”

He spoke at the invitation of the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, whose representatives were scheduled to testify but instead deferred to Espinoza.

Espinoza said he paid more than $5,000 to a “coyote” — an illegal smuggler — to help get him into the United States, and eventually to Indiana.

He described the claustrophobic ride in the trunk, with more desperation than air to breathe. Once arrived, he obtained false documents to work and earned enough money to get an associate’s degree at a community college.

By Maureen Hayden for TheHeraldBulletin.com
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