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Bush’s immigration proposals create climate of confusion

DALLAS (AP) – Angel Aleman and his wife follow the news these days like farmers follow the weather. And the couple, both illegal Mexican immigrants, have heard rain is coming.

”President Bush’s program will give amnesty to all the Mexicans so that they can work here,” Aleman says, reciting what he and wife, Juana Leyua, have heard from friends and Spanish-language radio. ”They say it’s for all of us who are here.”

Hyped media coverage and a grapevine humming with misinformation about Bush’s recent immigration proposals may be creating confusion and feeding false hopes in immigrant communities.



On a sticky summer night, Aleman and Leyua talk about amnesty while selling flavored ice in a Styrofoam cup for a buck. Their livelihood rests on a silver umbrella cart in a gas station parking lot wedged in inner-city Dallas.

Like many of the undocumented, Aleman and Leyua believe Bush’s immigration proposals will help them obtain the legal status they’ve dreamed of since they crossed the border six years ago.




”It would help us find work,” Leyua said. ”More than anything, it would improve the future of our children.”

What they don’t understand is that, for now, Bush’s proposals are just talk. And if a program does result, experts say it almost certainly would be a complex, restrictive one that excludes many.

”There is tremendous confusion and anticipation simply because there are no details,” says Jose Pertierra, a Washington, D.C., immigration lawyer. ”When there’s no details, everybody thinks they qualify.”

Phones in Pertierra’s office have been screaming with calls from immigrants wanting to apply for Bush’s program.

”Can my brother and sister in El Salvador get it?” one caller asks.

”Is it only for Mexicans?” asks another.

”How do I apply?”

Pertierra says Central Americans with temporary protective status have wanted to know if they should continue renewing their visas if amnesty is coming.

”We got people who didn’t want to apply for extensions because they were so sure they’re going to get amnesty,” Pertierra said. ”That’s potentially lethal. They’re putting all their marbles in a basket that may not exist.”

Pertierra largely blames overzealous media coverage of the proposals.

”It’s journalism that’s designed to rev up people’s enthusiasm,” he said. ”If you listen to the radio in Spanish, people are talking about ‘an amnesty is coming and everybody is going to be covered.”’

But Patricia Estrada, a news director at Dallas’ KESS radio, says Spanish stations are doing their best to dispense accurate information.

”We try to tell them it’s not an amnesty program,” said Estrada, also a news director for the national Spanish-language news service Metro Network. ”They want to learn more about the reforms but we tell them this program isn’t complete.”

Bush has been consulting with Mexican officials on a proposal to grant legal residency to undocumented Mexicans. Last week, he promised illegal immigrants some sort of worker program to legalize their labor here, but said bluntly: ”There’s going to be no amnesty.”

A task force headed by Secretary of State Colin Powell and Attorney General John Ashcroft has recommended that the administration grant guest-worker status and eventually legal residency to some of the 3 million Mexicans in this country illegally.

The word ”amnesty” itself, which traditionally would mean a general pardon, usually for political offenses, has generated confusion.

The term was used in 1986 when Congress legalized 2.7 million illegal immigrants who had been in the United States since 1982.

”It’s an easy word to say but I think we need to quit using it,” says Vanna Slaughter, director of immigration counseling services for Catholic Charities. ”It’s much easier to say it than ‘legalization’ or ‘regularization.’ But it isn’t accurate or precise. It’s not going to be a blanket program.”

”Amnesty” isn’t even mentioned in the glossary of the latest Statistical Yearbook of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, said Lynn Ligon, spokesman for the agency’s Dallas district office.

”It does have that connotation of having committed a crime and now you’re given some kind of special treatment to absolve you of it,” Ligon said.

Last year, President Clinton signed the ”245(i)” rule that allowed some illegal immigrants to apply for visas in the United States, rather than in their home countries. The rule incited the same flurry of questions for immigration experts, who tried to interpret the foreign tongue of immigration law to immigrants.

”Usually, this isn’t the way legislation is crafted,” Pertierra said of the Bush administration’s hushed negotiations with Mexico. ”Usually, we have something in black and white to work with.”

Groups like Catholic Charities are trying to ease the perplexity through outreach presentations, which offer summaries of immigration law, citizenship and family immigration. Officials said they started seeing a boost in attendance shortly after Bush’s proposals were uttered in the media.

Bush is due to announce proposed immigration changes when Mexican President Vicente Fox visits the White House next week. Even experts are in the dark about what the changes will look like.

”I don’t think WE understand what’s going on,” said Judith Golub, senior director of advocacy and public affairs at the American Immigrant Lawyers Association. ”Everyone is dying to know.”


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