Maria Ochoa crossed the border illegally, worked in a clothing factory and dodged immigration agents until she was granted U.S. citizenship in 1996. Lilia Neira also crossed the border without documentation and worked in restaurants and fields until gaining citizenship through her husband in 1991. Both women came to the United States in search of a better life than their native Mexico afforded. And both found it.
Yet now the two women fear that some of the immigration reform bills being debated in Congress could disrupt the social framework of families living here illegally, while other measures might keep low-paid illegal workers from ever attaining the American dream.
Both women decried a proposal that would make it a felony to be an illegal alien.
"Even though they don't have legal residency, they're still humans," Ochoa said.
Neira said the bill, passage of which remains dubious, would force illegal immigrants underground and jeopardize their access to basic social services, such as medical care.
"It doesn't make sense. It's going to create more problems," she said.
A temporary guest worker plan tailored to undocumented laborers in the agricultural industry would be beneficial to those workers, the women agreed. But such a plan would cap the achievement of other illegal workers in restaurants, construction and other professions that would not receive temporary status.
One proposal that would require illegal aliens to pay a fine to gain citizenship would create a financial hardship on families already living near or below the poverty line, Ochoa said.
Both women favored immigration policies that would grant amnesty to illegal workers who keep their jobs and pay taxes.
"I want all Mexicans, people from South America to have the same opportunity I did," Neira said. "That's my dream."
First published: Saturday, April 1, 2006