Sharon Johnson, of Bluffton, says she often notices immigrant women and children moving from aisle to aisle while shopping at a local Wal-Mart where she works.
“I look at them and I wonder if they walked through the desert to get here,” Johnson said Friday afternoon while sitting on a bench outside the Bluffton branch of the Beaufort County Library. “If they really traveled that distance, then things must be hard for them.”
In the wake of Thursday’s nationwide immigration strike, The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette sought the viewpoints of local residents visiting the library about that event and other immigration issues. Their opinions ran the gamut.
Thursday’s strike, dubbed nationally through social media as “A Day Without Immigrants,” shut down some businesses in Beaufort County and left others understaffed. Some area schools saw smaller classrooms.
“It is a tough situation,” Johnson said. “You don’t know what to say and what not to say.”
Johnson said she and her husband at one time built homes — without immigrant labor.
“We lost a lot of business because they (other builders) came in and bid lower,” she said. “A lot of the people aren’t here legally.”
Those in the country illegally shouldn’t get government services, Johnson said in one breath. Yet in another, she added that it is important that the children of immigrants aren’t impacted by government policy changes.
Brandon Capria said he feels he doesn’t have enough information to form an opinion about immigrants or immigration.
“I can’t tell you what is right or wrong,” Capria, of Bluffton, said. “I watch Fox News and it says one thing, and I look at BBC and it says something else.”
Children danced around a green space in front of the library during the early afternoon Friday. Paula Mercer, of Bluffton, lounged in the grass, watching them play through a pair of dark sunglasses.
Mercer said she immigrated to the country legally from England as a child. She said understands the benefits of living in America.
“I tried moving back to England as an adult, but I had been spoiled by the American opportunities already,” she said.
It is important that people come to the country legally, Mercer said.
“I am proud of my heritage, but I am proud to be an American,” she said. “But still I choose to live here legally and pay taxes. I don’t agree with people who come here illegally.”
Yet, for those who are in the country legally, they have a right to strike in support of immigrants, she added.
“It is a part of the American right,” she said. “If you own a business here, you should be able to choose when your business is closed.”
Across the street, Mike Larimer’s dog, Rosy, hopped on and off his lap as he soaked up the warm winter day.
“If they are here legally and they have a job, they need to go to their job,” Larimer said about Thursday’s strike. “If they are here illegally, that is a different thing.”
Larimer listed “crimes and costs” as his biggest concerns about illegal immigration.
As she rested on brick landscaping outside the library, Janet Weissman, of Bluffton, offered some different views.
“They had to strike because if they are going to oppose, there has to be a big showing,” she said. “I am very against the new immigration policies.”
Proper vetting is needed of immigrants, but those already here deserve to stay, she said.
“If they have been contributing to our way of life, they should not be deported,” she said.
For Jenny Perez, the national debate is personal.
Perez, standing outside her car in the shadow of a swooping oak tree, said she was born in California after her parents immigrated to the United States from Mexico. She said both of her parents are citizens, along with other extended family members — many of whom served in the military.
But despite being a U.S. citizen, Perez said she has faced discrimination — and empathizes with the struggles of those who are in the country illegally.
“There are not the delinquents and rapists people say they are,” she said. “All they have on their mind is trying to make a better living for their family.
“They are people.”