Armando Minjarez knows firsthand the issues surrounding immigration.
His story is a familiar one, as he came to the United States as an undocumented immigrant and ended up on a path to citizenship.
As a teen in Ulysses, Minjarez worked as a dishwasher, learned English and excelled in high school.
But his plans to study architecture at Kansas State University initially were dashed when he faced much higher tuition costs because he was undocumented and considered an international student.
Minjarez went on to Garden City Community College and graduated, then received a second chance at K-State thanks to new legislation that allowed him to pay in-state tuition. He earned a bachelor's degree and is a legal, permanent resident working toward citizenship.
And, he's involved with a nonprofit group working to help others understand the reality of immigration.
The Seed House ~ Casa de La Semilla of Wichita came to southwest Kansas due to its high immigrant population.
During the organization's Garden City visit, Minjarez appeared alongside Emira Palacios, who also arrived in Kansas as an undocumented immigrant and went on to gain legal status. She has testified before state and federal lawmakers in hopes of helping them better understand the need to fix the nation's broken immigration system.
The immigrants' stories — and so many other similar experiences in Kansas — should resonate with federal lawmakers in particular who are responsible for meaningful reform.
As shown in our local population, the vast majority of immigrants — regardless of their documentation — are hard-working and simply trying to make a living. Many have been difference-makers for employers with hard-to-fill jobs.
Lawmakers should acknowledge those economic realities evident in southwest Kansas and beyond.
This region's experience also is proof that the answer isn't in heavy-handed tactics that pull families apart. Comprehensive reform that blends controls on immigration with strategies to address labor needs makes more sense.
Lawmakers also should consider the humanitarian side of the immigration debate and resist pandering to those in the shortsighted, enforcement-only camp.
By putting a face on the issue, let's hope Minjarez and Palacios help drive home that important message.