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An illegal immigrant turns into an unusual hero
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Manuel Jesus Cordova Sobranes crossed the U.S. border a few weeks ago intent upon becoming an illegal immigrant. Instead, he has become an unusual hero - and a compelling reminder to all of us that the debate over who gets into our country is not just about numbers.

Cordova, in case you haven’t heard, was trying to sneak into the country on Thanksgiving Day from his home in Mexico. Here’s what happened then, according to various news reports, including the Association Press and MSNBC:

Cordova, a 26-year-old bricklayer with four kids to support, was two days into his walk and some 50 miles from Tuscon, Ariz., when he spotted 9-year-old Christopher Buztheitner. The boy had a dog and was holding a side mirror from a wrecked van.

He also had scrapes on his leg and was dressed in short pants, despite the cold. Cordova can’t speak English. The boy couldn’t speak Spanish. But he led Cordova to the side of a canyon and showed him the site of an accident involving a van driven by the boy’s mother, 45-year-old Dawn Alice Tomko. She was driving on a U.S. Forest Service road when she lost control of the van and ran into the canyon.

It was obvious to Cordova from the wreckage she was killed. So he stayed with the boy, sharing his food and tending a fire.

The boy and the would-be illegal immigrant were found 14 hours later by a group of hunters. U.S. Border Patrol agents took Cordova into custody while the boy was flown to a hospital in Tuscon.

Sheriff Tony Estrada of Santa Cruz County said Cordova, who was deported back to Mexico, may have saved the boy’s life. He’s also being hailed as a hero and the Mexican consulate in Nogales is working on getting Cordova a short-term visa so he can return to Arizona and be recognized for his actions.

That's nice, but more should be done. After all, here’s a man who could have fled and left the boy alone and no one would have been the wiser. Had he done so, Cordova would probably be somewhere in this country now, working to help feed his substantial family. After all, Cordova told the media he had to earn money to feed his four kids, who live with their mother, and help support his girlfriend’s three kids.

"I have two families, many mouths to feed," he said.

But he also told the media this: "I am a father of four children. For that, I stayed. I never could have left him (Buztheitner). Never."

Our hope is that Cordova's story serves two purposes. One is to remind us all that we're talking about people, not numbers, when we debate the problem of illegal immigration. We should always temper our arguments with that in mind.

We also hope it moves the powers that be to grant Cordova a visa so that he may work in this country legally. Through his selflessness and compassion, surely Cordova has earned that much.

The Bryan County News

Dec. 8, 2007

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