After Sept. 11, illegal Mexican immigrants lose hope of winning amnesty |

After Sept. 11, illegal Mexican immigrants lose hope of winning amnesty

LYNN BREZOSKY , Associated Press Writer

PHARR, Texas (AP) — Illegal Mexican immigrants had high hopes last summer of receiving amnesty from the U.S. government. But now, after Sept. 11, the cause seems lost amid clamped-down border security and greater suspicion of foreigners.

Months ago, President Bush had signaled a commitment to grant legal status to undocumented

Mexicans, perhaps through a guest worker program linking employer with employee. By November, though, U.S. officials were telling Mexico that because of fears of terrorism, the immigration laws are unlikely to change anytime soon.

“Right now we certainly are in what could best be described as a lull,” said Bill Weinberg, spokesman for Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Illinois.

A bill pushed by Gutierrez would legalize immigrants who could prove U.S. residence since 1996.

(The current cutoff is 1972.) By 2007, that entry date would be 2001. The bill has 45 sponsors, and immigrants rights groups had been planning a rally and lobbying day on Sept. 25 in Washington.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, the demonstration was canceled at Gutierrez’s request.

Another action would have extended an expired program that had allowed some immigrants who

entered the United States illegally or had overstayed their visas — mostly those with spouses who were here legally — to pay a $1,000 fine and apply for residency without having to leave the country.

The extension was dropped from a bill that passed the House last Wednesday.

“There was a lot of hope, a lot of optimism in our community,” said Benjamin Prado, coordinator of San Diego’s La Raza Rights Coalition. “Now the situation has changed dramatically.”

For opponents of more open immigration, the attacks have helped them make their case.

“Mexico is into this `respect’ business _ we have to respect them, they don’t want to be looked down on. But we’re entitled to have our borders respected,” said Dan Stein, president of the

Federation of American Immigration Reform, which argues that unfettered immigration is harming the economy.

Legal status would allow many immigrants to cash paychecks, drive cars and stop hiding. Their lack of papers can mean furtive lives, intermittent work and low wages.

“If you don’t have papers, they pay you less and they treat you badly,” Juan Hernandez, a

28-year-old bus driver from Tijuana, Mexico, said bitterly.

Many say their labor is needed here and they should be respected for contributing to the economy.

Rosa Guzman, a 29-year-old from Alamo, Texas, wants a job in a supermarket or a Wal-Mart, and

maybe someday her own little store. She said she sees the help-wanted signs all the time but knows it is pointless to apply.

“The first thing they ask for is the Social Security card,” Guzman said.

For now, the single mother of four stays home, sometimes earning money by selling tamales to neighbors.

Manuel Ortega, 47, wants a state certificate showing he has been trained in welding. He said he

could obtain that certificate in a few hours of course work if he were legal.

“The system forced me to do this,” Ortega said, unfolding a years-old crumpled pay stub with the

Social Security number he bought for $80 in California. Before he had the number, he could work

only for cash.

Carolyn Benitez, executive director of La Familia senior center in Wichita, Kan., said some immigrants who had been hoping for amnesty have already returned to Mexico.

“Bush has been saying to us we need to get on with our everyday lives,” she said, “yet he is postponing this.”

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