Immigrant Groups Worry About Legal Limbo President Bush has lunch with Republican senators in hopes of persuading them to get on board with the immigration bill that is before the Senate. Immigration groups are concerned about the divide.
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Immigrant Groups Worry About Legal Limbo

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Immigrant Groups Worry About Legal Limbo

Immigrant Groups Worry About Legal Limbo

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From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.


And I'm Alex Cohen. Coming up, a small Texas town braces for a new neighbor, his two wives and their 20 kids.

BRAND: First though, President Bush goes to the Capitol to try to save the immigration bill. It stalled last week after Republicans could not agree to limit debate and go ahead with a vote. We'll spend the next few minutes getting reaction from two sides. First, immigrant groups worry that this state of limbo will hurt them.

NPR's Jennifer Ludden reports.

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

Ms. ANA VALLEJOS (Immigrant): (Spanish spoken)

LUDDEN: Immigrants do their part for this country, she says. They pay taxes, 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 homeland security, raiding their workplaces, and deporting them. But some advocates believe there's more disgust now than fear. Chung-Wha Hong is with the New York Immigration Coalition.

Ms. CHUNG-WHA HONG (Director, New York Immigration Coalition): To me, it just shows the hypocrisy of the current, you know, of President Bush and DHS; they're talking immigration reform from one, you know, side of their mouth and then from the other they are deporting the very people who deserve to stay and to be legalized.

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

Ms. CHRISTINA NEUMANN-ORTIZ (Director, Voces de la Frontera, Wisconsin): The feedback we've gotten from the people that live there is that, you know, they don't feel good living there anymore, that it's created a divisiveness, that it's increased racism, and that it's like a poison in the body. And while the federal government does not act, it's giving a voice to this extreme minority position.

LUDDEN: A number of immigrant rights groups say they'll keep up the pressure. They're 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.

Ms. SONIA RAMIREZ (American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations): If we come back with a sense of adding more punitive measures, more onerous requirements on immigrants, then I think that, you know, it definitely puts them in a difficult spot.

LUDDEN: Still, Ramirez echoes other immigrant advocates who say simply doing nothing is a bad idea. Tom Snyder is with Unite Here, a textile and service industry union with a large immigrant membership.

Mr. TOM SNYDER (Director, Unite Here): To do nothing is really to be for amnesty, it's to be for cheap labor, it's to be for 15 million undocumented workers here in another couple of years, and 20 million undocumented workers being here five years from now.

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

Jennifer Ludden, NPR News, Washington.

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