Today, the medical diagnostic company, LabCorp, is Burlington's single largest employer. And the majority of people who work in the factories are a new generation of immigrants from Latin America — mostly illegal — who came in search of that dream.
These immigrants are establishing new businesses, filling the local churches and schools. They are also increasingly running into trouble with the law.
These are the stories of people who live and work there— and wrestling with vast changes in their community.
Father Bob Benko and the Blessed Sacrament Church.
Most Sunday's Father Robert Benko's mass can be heard on audio speakers extending a couple of feet outside to the church parking lot, just beyond the people crowded in the church pews and kneeling or standing in the aisles.
Within the last decade, the church's growing congregation includes some new English-speaking members but by far the fastest growing segment are Latinos— mostly from Mexico. They've come to Burlington to find work in the few textile factories left in town. And Father Benko serves not only as the spiritual leader of these two distinct communities but also acts as a mediator of sorts, in an effort to help bridge the cultural divide among both groups.
When she was 10 years old, Laura's family came to the U.S. from Mexico without documents.
During the hours when most children sleep, Laura tries her best to stay awake. At about 11 or 12 at night she has the best chance of catching a glimpse of her mother who comes home between jobs. She never gets to see her father because, when we met, her dad was behind bars facing deportation. Laura knows her mother has to work as many hours as her body can handle to clothe and feed her and her four sisters. That is the whole reason she crossed the border illegally to get to America.
Addresing the gang problem
Many states in the South are now grappling with the presence of gangs — always thought to be a city problem — now spreading to smaller, more rural communities. In Alamance County, North Carolina the presence of gangs manifests itself with the graffitti left behind and the growing drug trade on some of the states' major highways. Gang activity became such a concern that in the Spring of 2005, Alamance County sheriff's officer Randy Jones applied for federal and state aid in order to create their very own gang unit. The unit would specialize in identifying gang members and trying to root them out. The three-man department cost the county a quarter of a million dollars and consisted of three sheriff's officers. They were trained by some of the top gang investigators in Los Angeles and New York.
In the winter of 2005, the fledgling unit here was still struggling to learn more about the growing presence in their community of the notoriously, violent Latino gang called MS-13 or mara salvatrucha.