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Day laborers react to sweeping immigration bill

April 16, 2013|By Marisa Gerber

For Jose Cruz, a 33-year-old day laborer from Guatemala, getting all the benefits of citizenship is not as important as being able to live, work and drive in the U.S. without the fear of deportation.

"My main concern today, is having a job. That's the pan de cada dia (our daily bread)," said Cruz, who spent Tuesday at a Southland Home Depot hoping to find work. "I can wait for everything else."

His friend, Javier Gonzalez, a fellow day laborer who plans to return to his wife and four kids in Acapulco soon, chimed in to remind Cruz of the prospective timetable: "You want to wait 13 years?"

A sweeping immigration overhaul bill unveiled Tuesday paves a 13-year-path toward citizenship and creates a new probationary legal status that would let people work and drive in the country without the fear of deportation.

Cruz, who snuck into the United States through Arizona eight years ago, shook his head and slouched a bit.

As his tattered Nike backpack fell off of his left shoulder and onto the parking lot, a white truck with a wooden pallet in the bed drove by slowly. Both men smiled and waved, but the driver didn't stop.

As the men talked about their treks to the U.S., they laughed at the notion of a border so secure that only 10% of the people who try to cross it can get through.

"That won't happen, the border is too big," said Gonzalez, who took a bus to Sonora and then walked into Arizona.

For Cruz, access to a driver's license would be a huge plus. He sometimes gets offered jobs but has to turn them down because he can't get there on the bus.

And borrowing a friend's car to get there is hardly worth it because he spends the whole drive panicking about getting pulled over by a policeman.

"It'd be nice to just drive somewhere," he said. "And to be able to breathe."

Neither of them expected an immigration overhaul bill to surface for a while -- or ever. They're used to unfulfilled promises from politicians. And they try not to dwell on the topic of immigration much anyway.

"People don't talk about that," Cruz said. "People talk about work. About their families. About how they're worried they're not making enough money to send home."

As Gonzalez walked off to talk to another group of day laborers, Cruz shook his head -- frustrated by the situation.

"Everything takes time -- time and money," Cruz said. "More of it than I have."

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marisa.gerber@latimes.com


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