Andrew Dys

Hard-working Mexican immigrants, bashed by Trump, persevere in York County

Jose Montez, left, and Manuel Sanchez, immigrants from Mexico, working at a construction site in Fort Mill. The men are upset that presidential candidate Donald Trump categorized Mexican immigrants as criminals.
Jose Montez, left, and Manuel Sanchez, immigrants from Mexico, working at a construction site in Fort Mill. The men are upset that presidential candidate Donald Trump categorized Mexican immigrants as criminals.

Thirty-five feet above the ground, held in place by harness and rope atop a pitched roof being covered with shingles, worked Manuel Sanchez, Jose Montez and Mario Mendoza. The pitch was so steep, they needed the harnesses and ropes to keep from plummeting to certain death.

These men do this for 10, 12 hours, six days a week.

Donald Trump, who wants to be president of the United States, calls people like Sanchez, Montez and Mendoza – who came from Mexico to do the work that must be done in America – criminals.

Finally, it was break time. The men scrambled down to the ground.

Sanchez, half his 40 years lived right here after coming from Mexico, looked up at the work he had completed since the sun rose. He is the best English-speaker of his crew. He was rightfully proud of a job well done, with skill and care in his home for 20 years.

“For this work, Mr. Trump would call me a criminal?” Sanchez asked. “I am no criminal. I work hard in my job every day in America. I ask for nothing. I work for all I have. I contribute to this country that I live in and love.”

Montez said Mexican immigrants like him have heard about Trump’s saying that Mexico has dumped so many criminals into America, that the immigrant is the problem that ails America.

“I am a problem?” Montez asked. “I work every day. For my family, my kids. How is this a problem?”

Mendoza speaks little English. Work is his language. But he is able to say, “Nobody should say we are bad.”

On Wednesday, the men hope to finish their work in time to go to Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte and watch Mexico play soccer in a Gold Cup match that is expected to draw 50,000 fans, maybe more.

Most of those fans will be Hispanic. Most will be immigrants. No doubt, some will be illegal.

Without question, some Mexican immigrants have committed crimes like the murder in California that has Trump all riled up.

Immigrants have committed crimes in York County in recent years. A homicidal gang member was sent to prison a couple of years ago for killing another man. A heroin dealer was sent off to prison a month ago when he came back to Rock Hill – twice – after having been deported to Mexico.

There have been many big drug arrests of traffickers and several violent crimes. There have been sexual crimes, drunken driving, more.

In York County, with almost a quarter-million residents, with a population of Hispanics that has jumped 21 percent in a decade, there are at least 13,000 Hispanics who are documented. And, undoubtedly, there are thousands more illegal immigrants who are terrified every day of waking up in jail for the crime of wanting a better life.

Most are from Mexico.

Most do what most people born here do – work.

“I have been here in America for 20 years, since I was 16 years old, and I see and know that there are a few in any group who will do bad things, who commit the crimes,” said Alberto Ramos, the supervisor of the roofing crew. “That is not these men here, me, those I know. We only work, and take care of our families.”

Ramos, whose brother-in-law is a U.S. Marine, said Mexican immigrants are extremely patriotic.

“We live in America, and we love America,” he said.

That incredible drive to take care of children and families, away from the poverty and corruption of Mexico, is why these people braved rivers and deserts to get here.

“I came 14 years ago; life was difficult in Mexico,” said Raul Sorrosa, a carpenter working on the same building as the roofing crew. “Life in Mexic,- very hard. It is not safe sometimes. Very poor. My kids, some days they had salsa on a tortilla, with chile, to eat. That is no life.”

Living and working in York County and America is much better, he said.

“Most people here, they understand, they are good and nice, but some they tell us to go home,” Sorrosa said. “Who would do this work here if we left?”

All these men hope to go to Wednesday’s soccer game, which will be the largest single-place gathering of Mexican immigrants and Hispanics in South Carolina and North Carolina since a similar match was played in 2011. Carloads of Hispanics from Rock Hill and Fort Mill went to the 2011 game. Many will go again.

Tickets are pricey – $30 for a nosebleed seat, far more for a premium spot – to see heroes of Mexico play their national game right up the road from where these men have lived so long.

But getting to the game is not a sure thing. These guys, like most Mexican immigrants, work long hours, especially when the weather is good. A game in July can only come after a 12-hour shift on a roof, in the hot sun.

A game is a luxury. Work and family come first. That is America.

That does not sound like the life lived by criminals.

Andrew Dys: 803-329-4065;