PHOENIX (Reuters) - Day laborers stood in the shade of a palm tree hoping for work and dreaming of a life out of the shadows on Friday, a day after U.S. Senate leaders struck a deal on immigration reform that would allow millions of illegal immigrants a shot at becoming legal.
The agreement would create a temporary worker program, set up a merit-based system for future immigrants and give legal status to some 12 million undocumented immigrants, if it survives what is expected to be a highly charged debate in Congress in coming weeks.
It allowed the day laborers in Phoenix the chance to imagine a life above board for the first time, and a moment to mull over the finer details of what any deal might mean in the months ahead.
“The first thing I want to do is to go home and hug my wife and children,” said Hermilo Sanchez, 44, a Mexican who left his wife and nine children in the dirt poor state of Chiapas two years ago to find a job in the United States.
“The youngest, a little girl, was born after I left and I have never held her,” he said, chatting in Spanish as he waited in a sun-baked parking lot for contractors to roll up, looking for muscle for landscaping and other low skill tasks.
If the proposal makes it through the Senate, he feels he should be in the clear. Under the plan, a new Z visa would be created for illegal immigrants who can prove they arrived in the United States before January 1, 2007.
It would also create a temporary worker program that would allow workers from Mexico and other countries to work for two years and then require them to go home before they could return.
For Rogelio Cruz, a devout church goer and father of four from Michoacan, Mexico, it raises the hope of escaping a world of irregular work paid at $7 to $8 dollars an hour while in constant fear of deportation.
“I want papers so that I can get out of this hole,” he said, tucking a polo shirt neatly in to his slacks, and burning with a quiet indignation he’s felt since he arrived in the United States six years ago.
“I want to work an eight-hour day, as God sees fit, without problems with either the immigration authorities or the police or anybody,” he said. “Everyone should have the right to that in this life.”
‘REALLY WILLING TO WORK’
Many Hispanic residents of Phoenix tuned in to the AM radio show, “La Voz del Migrante,” “The Migrant’s Voice,” on Friday, where callers mulled over the nuances any reform might have for business owners, or couples where either the husband or wife already had a work permit.
The day laborers seemed uncertain exactly how they would benefit from the reform as they discussed the possible deal on Friday.
Plans include a points system for immigrants, a complex calculus for eligibility that factors in their length of time in the country and their skills.
“I’ve only been here for two years, so I’m not sure how many points I will get,” said Jose Hernandez, 30, a soft-spoken laborer from the city of Monterrey, a couple of hours drive south of Texas.
“I have had some education, but I’m really willing to work, so I hope they take that into account,” he said, as the temperature reached 98 F (37 C) in the shade.
Others mulled over the cost of fines, expected to be around $5,000 dollars, that they will have to pay to sign up for legal status and work in the United States.
“$5,000 is a fair bit of money, but if it allows you to come and go legally, it’s worth it,” said Jose Leyva, 22, a native of Mexico City, who arrived in Arizona three years ago. “After all, I paid the coyote (smuggler) $3,000 to walk across the desert.”
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