- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 27, 2001

PHARR, Texas (AP) Illegal Mexican immigrants had high hopes last summer of receiving amnesty from the U.S. government. But now, after September 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, Illinois Democrat.
A bill pushed by Mr. 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 September 11 terrorist attacks, the demonstration was canceled at Mr. 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, 28, a bus driver from Tijuana, Mexico, said bitterly.
Many say that their labor is needed here, and that they should be respected for contributing to the economy.
Rosa Guzman, 29, 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," Miss 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," Mr. 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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