Illegal immigrants question Senate deal
David Guerra wants to be legal, but he says the path to citizenship offered by the Senate on Thursday would be too risky and too expensive, and could end up driving him deeper into the shadows.
Guerra's wife and children independ on the $300 he sends home each month from his job as a day laborer. Key provisions of the legislation would require him to return home to apply for residency, pay a $5,000 fine and spend thousands more in application fees.
That would be disastrous for his family, he said, and, worse, he's not sure he can trust U.S. immigration authorities who have been rounding up and deporting his fellow immigrants for months.
"If I go home, who is going to guarantee that I'll be let back in?" said the 44-year-old who lays bricks, clears weeds and does landscaping.
Across the nation, illegal immigrants, many of whom toil in dirty, low-paying jobs, sharply criticized the Senate's immigration overhaul package as overly burdensome and impractical.
"Where would I find $5,000? In two years, I don't get $5,000," said Daniel Carrillo Maldonado, an illegal immigrant who was looking for construction work outside ain Phoenix.
The agreement between the Senate andwould allow illegal immigrants to obtain a special visa. After paying fees and the fine, they could get on a path to permanent residency that could take eight to 13 years. Heads of household would have to return to their home countries first.
Some illegal immigrants said returning home presented another major hurdle: Applying for residency at U.S. embassies in their home countries.
Amy Ndour, a 23-year-old illegal immigrant fromwho lives in , said she would be willing to pay the $5,000 fine, but not return home because her family there depends on what she earns as a hair braider.
"I'm helping myself" here, she said. "I'm helping people there too."
Karina Corona, 32, an illegal immigrant from, works seven days a week at two jobs - one at a delicatessen and another as a seamstress. She said $5,000 is a small price to pay.
"Compared with the better jobs you can get, it's nothing. It's well worth it," she said.
Carlos Velazquez, a 40-year-old illegal immigrant in, said he applied twice for visas in , and both times had to pay several bribes to local embassy staff.
"Only with money will the monkey dance," said Velazquez, using an idiomatic expression to refer to bribes.
The Senate agreement includes a so-called "point system," which for the first time would prioritize immigrants' education and skill level over family connections in deciding how to award green cards that allow permanent residency.
Family connections alone would no longer be enough to qualify for a green card - except for spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens. And new limits would apply to U.S. citizens seeking to bring foreign-born parents into the country.
Many illegal immigrants said they had little incentive to apply for residency because the process was long and did not offer much hope of bringing their families.
"If I'll never be able to bring my family, why should I apply?" said Jose Monson, a 33-year-old illegal immigrant fromwho has lived in for four years. "I prefer to just stay here illegally."
"If I get deported and need to cross the border again, that's not a problem," he said.
Several unions, which have many immigrants in their ranks, took issue with the creation of a new temporary guest worker program.
New workers would have to return home after two-year stints, with little opportunity to gain permanent legal status or ever become U.S. citizens. They could renew their guest worker visas twice, but would be required to leave for a year between each stint.
"Temporary workers depress wages and create a second-class work force that is disconnected from the U.S. mainstream and not equal," said Eliseo Medina, executive vice president of the Service Employees International Union.
Pablo Alvarado, director of the National Day Labor Organizing Network, said the guest worker component would likely exacerbate rhetoric between anti-illegal immigration groups and immigration groups. Groups such as the Minutemen regularly stage protests in front of day labor centers.
"You will still have the anti-immigrant organizations blaming immigrants for depressed wages," Alvarado said.
Still, the agreement gave some hope.
In, Marco Antonio Rodiguez, said he would be happy with a permit that would allow him to work legally and return to Mexico twice a year to see his wife and three children.
"Immigration reform would benefit us so much, both ourselves and families," said Rodriguez, a 48-year-old illegal immigrant who does odd jobs. "We want the law to be approved. I'm praying to God that it passes."
Pascual Bravo, an illegal immigrant who works at a construction company in Middletown, N.Y., was also eager to achieve legal status.
Bravo, 49, last crossed the border ineight years ago, paying a smuggler $1,800. "I miss my country," he said.