Skip to comments.President's immigration proposal stirs rumors
Posted on 02/02/2004 6:18:03 PM PST by yonif
For community activist José Lagos, the phone calls came from as far away as Honduras, the day before President Bush announced his sweeping immigration proposal.
María Garza tried to discuss tax breaks on her weekly radio show in Homestead but was flooded with calls from people wanting applications to a phantom amnesty program.
And Miami attorney Tammy Fox-Isicoff, who handles thousands of immigration cases, has spent recent weeks explaining to clients that Bush's idea is just that, an idea.
Nearly a month has passed since Bush announced a plan that would grant temporary legal status to millions of undocumented immigrants working in the United States.
Yet, community groups and attorneys that specialize in immigration issues are still being flooded with queries from anxious -- and misinformed -- illegal immigrants.
''Desperation always breeds rumor and innuendo,'' Fox-Isicoff said. ``It's very sad because it's very misleading. They don't understand that the president doesn't make the law.''
Frustrated attorneys like Fox-Isicoff and other immigration advocates can offer few details to their clients because Bush's proposal is more concept than working battle plan. It must still be crafted as a bill, then approved by Congress.
And it will likely face stiff resistance from conservative Republicans who see the proposal as veiled amnesty and Democrats who say it does not go far enough. Its concepts could also be melded into several other immigration reform bills. Congress may not even take up immigration reform before it recesses for the summer.
Nevertheless in South Florida, home to many poor, undereducated people from Latin America and the Caribbean, the ambiguity of the plan has created a stir rivaled in intensity only in California and Texas.
Hispanics, particularly blue-collar workers who get their news from Spanish-language television, have been especially prone to misinformation about Bush's plan. A national poll released last week showed that opposition to Bush's plan rose sharply after respondents were told that the proposal encourages immigrants to return home.
Under Bush's proposal, undocumented workers in the United States and foreigners who could prove they had a job awaiting them here would qualify for temporary legal status for up to six years. If they fail to gain residency, however, they would have to return to their homelands.
Luis, who asked that his last name not be used, read about the proposal in a Spanish-language newspaper and immediately called his immigration attorney.
The Mexico native earned residency under the last major immigration reform measure: the 1986 amnesty program. He has three children, all born here. But his wife, who has lived here for about a decade, is illegal and he hoped that he might secure her legalization under Bush's plan. ''It's so hard,'' Luis said in Spanish. ``If she were to get deported, it would break up our family.''
South Florida attorneys and immigrant groups have responded to the misinformation by going on the offensive. At the Colombian American Service Association, in West Miami-Dade County, officials sent mass e-mails explaining Bush's proposals.
Miami's Mexican Consulate General Jorge Lomonaco met with community leaders last week to discuss Bush's proposal. Haitian-American officials, such as North Miami City Councilman Jacques Despinosse, have gone on Creole-language radio to answer the desperate calls.
''A person who is an illegal alien is like a sick person,'' Despinosse said. ``And the sick person wants to be cured . . . We have to tell the people what they heard is not exactly what it is.''
For attorneys and community groups, the glut of inquiries usually comes when any shred of hope can be gleaned from the headlines.
Similar scuttlebutt surfaced in 2000 when President Clinton minted immigration law 245i, which granted residency to a limited number of undocumented people living in the United States.
In the fall of 2001, Mexican President Vicente Fox beamed when he spoke about immigration accords to a packed audience at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables. Afterward, calls from undocumented immigrants swamped the office of Cheryl Little, the director of the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center.
But days later, the Sept. 11 attacks deflated hopes that the United States might ease immigration restrictions. The gossip mill revved up again in December when Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge visited Miami and suggested some undocumented immigrants should be legalized.
''It's been an emotional roller coaster for our immigrant communities,'' Little said.
Bush's speech has created more talk among immigrants seeking residency than most such recent proposals.
In contrast, attorneys and advocates say they have received few inquiries about a bipartisan immigration bill introduced two weeks after Bush's speech. And that bill is an actual piece of legislation that would allow undocumented workers a clear path to legal residency.
FEARS OF SCAMS
The misperceptions surrounding Bush's plan have also led to fears that con artists, looking to reap a bogus fee, may promise to file residency paperwork as part of the president's plan.
New reports of people falling victim to such swindlers are sparse, and come mostly from California and Texas. But that has not stopped the rumors.
''It's making its way to Florida,'' said Lagos, whose advocacy group Honduran Unity held a press conference recently to warn against immigration fraud. ``We're very concerned and fear it might also happen here.''
Crooks, authorities warn, often refer to themselves as notarios, the Latin American equivalent of a notary. Victims rarely report their crimes for fear of deportation.
The con artists ''tell people what they want to hear,'' said Little, the attorney. ``And often times, we have to deliver the bad news -- that they're not eligible for legal residency.''
In Fort Pierce, home to a large Mexican population, the combination of intense interest in Bush's plan and the fear of swindlers culminated at a Spanish-language radio station.
Bush's proposal has been a hot topic on Irma Cabriales' morning show at La Gigante (WJNX 1330-AM). Recently, producers were shocked to receive a fax asking them to promote a seminar discussing ``The President's New Work Permits, Green Cards.''
The show, which provided a copy of the flier to the Herald, refused to mention the flier on air, deeming it too suspicious.
The flier, it turned out, was from Eric Tinsley, an immigration attorney in Fort Pierce who told The Herald that he did not realize the flier was misleading.
''It has caught me off guard that it has been such a big deal,'' Tinsley said of Bush's proposal. ``It's an indication people are in need of some relief, for changes to the system.''
wow. staying here, in the u.s., is better than going home with his family...
kfi radio in l.a., reports that more illegals are "crossing", to apply...
We'll just be one big happy third world family. I guess we should start building our huts. History will not be kind to the politicians who are allowing this to happen, but then by that time who will be reading history books?
We need to stop giving citizenship to the children born to illegal aliens. They're sucking the treasuries of the southwestern states dry. And it might provide a disincentive for illegal immigration in the future.