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Maine's Undocumented Immigrants: Rosi's Story
05/02/2013   Reported By: Tom Porter

The immigration debate has been dominating the headlines again this week. Yesterday thousands of demonstrators took to the streets across the nation to pressure members of Congress to move forward on immigration reform. And there are roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants who are likely to be hanging on Congress's every word. Among them, a 52-year-old Mexican national named Rosi, who is living a low-profile existence with her husband in the Portland area. Tom Porter has her story, in the second of a two-part series on immigrants living illegally in Maine.

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Speaking through an interpreter, Rosi explains that she and her husband came to the U.S. back in 2007 - and never left. "And the reason I left Mexico was because we were going through a very difficult situation," she says.

That situation, she says, arose from the fact that her husband - an auto mechanic - was being pressured by local drug traffickers to adapt a number of cars to smuggle drugs across the border. He refused. And then the threats started. "They put a pistol up to his head," Rosi says.

On another occasion, she says, when the drug traffickers came to visit her husband, they lifted up the trunk of their car and showed him the body of a dead man. "And they threatened him, and they said, 'If you talk about us or you denounce us then you're going to be just like that man in the trunk.'"

Soon afterwards, Rosi and her husband left for Houston, Texas on a tourist visa for what she thought was a short trip to buy a new car. When they got there, he told her it was a one-way trip.

Rosi weeps as she recounts the story. "When we got ho Houston my husband told me we're not going back, because if we do they're going to kill me."

Rosi says they had to leave behind their house, most of their belongings and their pets. Soon after arriving in the U.S. they made their way to Maine, because they heard there was work available for undocumented immigrants. Rosi and her husband share an apartment with another immigrant family.

They get by doing casual work, she says. But it's tough. "It's really difficult when you don't have documents, because they exploit you a lot and they humiliate you," she says.

Rosi says she lives in constant fear of being deported, and prays every morning to be invisible. Because Rosi and her husband feel their lives would be in danger back in Mexico, they could apply for asylum. But she says she's reluctact to do that because although the asylum process is meant to preserve the anonymity of the applicant, she's still worried it will draw attention to her and her husband and put their lives in danger from Mexican drug gangs.

It's also lengthy process. "In the immigration courts they're currently scheduling asylum hearings into 2015, so it's several years,' says Noel Young, an attorney with the Maine Immigrant Legal Advovcacy Project. If an asylum appeal fails of course, the applicant can then be deported.

Although there are no data available, Young says she has heard anecdotally of many undocumented immigrants who are reluctant to apply for asylum for this reason.

"If they're not bringing themselves to the attention of the U.S. authorities then maybe that's a better chance than taking a risk with applying for some form of release," Young says.

The stories of undocumented immigrants like Rosi highlight the fact that many of them have come here legally but chose to stay on illegally. For Bob Dane, this is a problem.

"Visa overstayers are a huge part of illegal immigration. It comprises about 40 percent of all illegal immigrants," he says. "We need in the United States a better entry and exit system. Visibly absent right now is a credible exit system."

Dane is spokesman for the Federation of American Immigration Reform, a conservative advocacy group which strongly opposes the immigration reform bill currently before the Senate.

"It does grant amnesty to those who have broken the laws," he says. "It will flood the economy with millions of immigrants looking for jobs that American workers desprately need."

Dane acknowledges, however, that the fact that both the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the country's largest labor union federation - the AFL-CIO - are behind the proposal, will make it harder to defeat than previous immigration reform efforts.

In the meantime, Rosi is hoping for a way out of the situation she and her husband are in. "I want to be able to have the privileges of a citizen and not have to leave the house and live in fear," she says.

The immigration reform bill proposal is likely to take months to reach a resolution - if it gets through Senate intact.


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