In 1975, when he was five years old, Al Landa illegally entered the United States with his parents. He can remember being deported as a child.
"Many Mexicans live in constant fear of the INS," he said, referring to the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
After bouncing through the immigration system for 10 years, Landa, who works at Craig Ford, recently obtained permanent resident status. His own struggle makes him acutely aware of the difficulties the estimated 8 million illegal immigrants living in the United States experience every day.
Because of his experience, Landa welcomes any new proposals that could make life safer and more secure for immigrants. He said he saw some good and some bad in President George W. Bush's immigration reform proposal.
On Jan. 6, Bush proposed changes that, among other things, would allow illegal immigrants living in the United States to apply for three-year renewable guest visas. Those with a promise of work in the U.S. could also apply for a visa. Illegal immigrants could freely travel between the U.S. and Mexico and could report crimes without fear of being arrested.
Although the reforms apply to all immigrants, Bush specifically mentioned Mexicans multiple times while presenting his proposal.
Landa and others say the reform proposal is good, but that it isn't enough. Landa said it's great that illegal immigrants would have the opportunity to work here legally for up to six years, but that he has friends who have already been here that long and have established their lives in American communities. They, too, can apply for guest visas, but when their six years are up, they will have to go back to Mexico.
"It isn't fair to make them go back," he said.
Carlos Carera, a drug and alcohol councilor at Yampa Valley Psychotherapists, said he doesn't like the three-year visa renewal plan. He wants to see the federal government grant illegal aliens amnesty, as was done in 1988. Landa also said that would be the best thing the government could do for illegal immigrants.
A local mechanic, who said he "just crossed the border" in 1986, received amnesty in 1988. The mechanic, who asked not to be identified, said he doesn't expect the government to ever grant amnesty again. In light of that, he said Bush's proposal was "better than nothing."
Father Ernest Bayer of St. Michael's Catholic Church celebrates Mass in Spanish and regularly meets with members of the Hispanic community. Although he hadn't spoken with any immigrants regarding Bush's proposal, he said he personally believes the reform is a good thing.
"I think Bush is helping us to pull our heads out of the sand and say, 'this is what's going on in the country and we have to do something about it,'" Bayer said. "It just seems reasonable to give them a chance to work legally."
But Carera expressed skepticism about the timing of Bush's announcement.
"He needs to have Hispanic voters," Carera said. "He's doing this exactly in time for elections."
All the same, Carera said he thought reformation of immigration laws could be a good thing for Colorado and the United States. As an example, he said if illegal immigrants could apply for drivers licenses, they would have to pay insurance. Since immigrants are already driving without insurance, the situation will only improve.
Carera said that under current conditions, many Mexicans are afraid to come see him for counseling or to ask anyone else for help. They can't call the police if they are victimized, because they are afraid of being arrested themselves. Carera sees Bush's proposal as a useful remedy to those problems.
Bayer, Landa and Carera, all of whom know illegal immigrants in the community, each said it would be good if illegal aliens were allowed to freely travel back and forth between the southern border.
Rob Gebhart can be reached at 824-7031 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.