Immigrant Groups Worry About Legal Limbo

When the immigration bill crashed on the Senate floor late last week, it seemed to unleash a torrent of harsh feelings. At a money transfer shop in Washington, Ana Vallejos serves a clientele that is nearly 90 percent immigrant. Vallejos herself is from Nicaragua, and says she is tired of politicians vilifying Hispanics in particular.

"Immigrants do their part for this country," she says in Spanish. "They pay taxes, and they work hard. They're not just parasites who contribute nothing."

Vallejos laments that illegal immigrants supporting families both here and in their home countries will continue to worry about the Department of Homeland Security raiding their workplace and deporting them. But some advocates believe there's more disgust now than fear.

"The raids just show the hypocrisy of President Bush and DHS," says Chung Wa Hong of the New York Immigration Coalition. "They're talking immigration reform from one side of their mouth, and then they're deporting the very people who deserve to stay and be legalized."

Advocates also worry about more efforts by states and localities to push illegal immigrants from their area. Christina Newman Ortiz is with Voces de la Frontera — or Voices from the Border — in Wisconsin. She says even as the Senate debated, the town of Green Bay passed an anti-illegal immigrant resolution. Ortiz says it was mostly symbolic, but stung nonetheless.

"And the feedback we've gotten from people who live there is they don't feel good living there anymore, that it's created divisiveness, it's increased racism, and it's like poison in the body." she says. "And while the federal government does not act, it's giving voice to this extreme minority position."

A number of immigrant rights groups say they'll keep up the pressure. They are organizing immigrant families from two dozen states to gather in Washington and march to the White House next week. But not everyone plans to be there. As in Congress and the public, there's also division among groups who want legalization. Sonia Ramirez of the AFL-CIO says the Senate bill was "headed in the wrong direction," and immigrants just may be better off with it dead for now.

"If we come back with a sense of adding more punitive measures, more onerous requirements on immigrants, then I think that it definitely puts them in a difficult spot," Ramirez says.

Still, Ramirez echoes other immigrant advocates who say simply doing nothing is a bad idea.

"To do nothing is really to be for amnesty, is to be for cheap labor," says Tom Snyder of Unite Here, a textile and service industry union with a large immigrant membership. "It's to be for 15 million undocumented workers here in a couple of years, and 20 million undocumented workers being here five years from now."

That's a prospect Snyder hopes can spur Congress to decide that tackling the immigration problem today may not be so hard after all.

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