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Sheriff Seeks Leader Who Can Halt Illegal Immigration

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A steady decrease in the general population coupled by an increase in Hispanic residents, if ever so slight, has made immigration a top issue for Iowans in Clay County. Video by PIerre Kattar/washingtonpost.com

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By Krissah Williams
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 30, 2007

SPENCER, Iowa -- The tiny jail here has housed many a typical small-town Iowa criminal since its bricks were laid in 1938 -- drunk drivers, drug abusers, the occasional thief. These days, though, Sheriff Randy Krukow walks the cell row and behind the bars sees a new kind of increasingly typical lawbreaker: illegal immigrants. Six of the eight men locked up this month were in the country illegally, accused of identity fraud and drug dealing.

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They worry Krukow, as did the 99 illegal immigrants he watched being arrested on television last year when federal agents swarmed a meatpacking plant three hours down the road.

Krukow has never entered the variety store that advertises "envios de dinero" -- money transfers -- to Mexico and Central America that opened two years ago on Grand Avenue in Spencer, where antique lampposts are a reminder of the town's founding more than 100 years ago. And across from Krukow's three-bedroom rancher, on a block filled with flags for the local high school and ribbons for U.S. troops, sits a worn beige rental with a sheet in the front window that is home to a group of Hispanic immigrants.

"When the weather's nice, they're all out there talking on their cellphones. All 10 of them," said Krukow, 57. "Don't speak a lick of English, but they are hardworking."

Krukow understands and even sympathizes with what has brought his new neighbors. The hog and chicken confinement plants that opened a decade ago promise a decent wage and a better life. But he wants illegal immigrants gone before Clay County starts to resemble neighboring Buena Vista County, where half of the workforce at a Tyson meat plant is Hispanic and where one in eight residents is an immigrant.

"We've only seen the tip of the iceberg," said Krukow, who has lived in these parts all his life and serves as an elder at a Pentecostal church. "It's still 'God, family, country' here. Illegal is illegal."

The sentiments of voters such as Krukow have propelled the issue of illegal immigration to the fore of the Republican race for president in Iowa, where a relatively small but concentrated influx of newcomers has begun to transform the largely rural, largely white state. Immigrants are drawn to jobs in the agriculture industry that Americans are not filling.

About 20,000 immigrants, most of them Hispanic, have moved to Iowa in the last six years, and the state is now home to about 112,000 of them, according to 2006 U.S. Census figures. More than half are undocumented, according to a 2006 study by the Pew Hispanic Center.

The Republican presidential hopefuls, particularly front-runners Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney, have seized on these numbers and are telling voters on the stump, in TV and radio commercials, and at debates that they will do the most to stem illegal immigration.

Like many other Republicans, Krukow is torn between Huckabee and Romney, who has repeatedly criticized Huckabee's support for tuition breaks for the children of illegal immigrants while he was governor of Arkansas. Krukow agrees with Romney that undocumented immigrants should not receive government benefits such as tuition breaks, but he understands Huckabee's biblical argument about not punishing children for the sins of their fathers.

The sheriff also admires the Baptist-minister-turned-politician's unabashed Christian faith. It is the same faith that leads Krukow to services every Sunday morning at DaySpring Assembly of God, where the U.S. flag and a cross-bearing Christian banner adorn the stage. He and his wife, Suzanne, also host a Sunday night prayer group for couples at their home.

Still, Krukow wonders whether Huckabee is too soft on immigration. The sheriff is looking for a hard-line candidate who will wall off the border and ensure that taxpayers are not subsidizing illegal immigrants.


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