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Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Aspen Times News for Aspen Colorado - News

Aspen Times News for Aspen Colorado - News
When Gabby heard rumors of immigration raids last week, she stayed inside her midvalley home for two days.

Four months pregnant with her first child and in the United States without permission, she wasn't willing to risk the deportation described in stories blanketing the Roaring Fork Valley last week.

The young mother-to-be sat in a bus stop, hands clasped on her slightly swollen stomach. Soft-spoken and urgent at the same time, she said in Spanish: "I'm worried they'll carry us off."

Gabby, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, is one of an estimated 9.3 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, or approximately 26 percent of the total foreign-born population, according to the Urban Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit research group.

Mexicans comprise 57 percent of the total illegal immigrants, or about 5.3 million, according to Urban Institute figures. Another 2.2 million come from other Latin American countries.

Gabby said the raid rumors make her feel as though the Latino community is invading something that's not theirs, and authorities will swoop down and deal with them "como animales," like animal control trapping a nuisance neighborhood bear.

She said she thought America meant freedom.

"If we're not 'American,' they're going to [deport us]. But we're all Americans," she said, adding that North, Central and South America share that in common.

Many Hispanic workers in Aspen express frustration about what seems to them a paradox: Local employers need low-paid laborers, yet undocumented workers fear deportation and, possibly, jail. Early last week, rumors of widespread immigration raids on buses and in restaurants touched this nerve in the Hispanic community. A large number refused to go to work for a day or two even though immigration officials insisted that no such raids were occurring.

"It upsets people's routines and lives," said American citizen Chris Koch, who is married to an El Salvador-born immigrant. His wife, Marleny, is now a U.S. citizen, or as her friends joke, an "American chicken." She works at Aspen's City Market.

"Because [most Latino immigrants are] not here legally they have to work where they can find work," Marleny said, adding that she knows Latinos who mop floors and clean bathrooms in Aspen for as low as $5.80 an hour. She said she doesn't know any citizens who will work for that wage.

Hiding from authorities without papers "is a curse," said Elida Turcio, another City Market employee. Turcio, like other El Salvadorans who work at the grocery store, was granted a visa because of the strife in her country.

While she is not frightened by the rumors because she has permission for legal employment, Turcio said she knows three families that hid last week and didn't go to work.

The rumor is "a lie ... but it scares the people," she said.

She believes a variety of factors contributed to the scare: Drunken driving checkpoints that inmigrantes with poor English skills mistake for immigration blockades, television reports of raids in California and word of mouth. And she said reports on the local Spanish-language radio station only create more anxiety.

But not all undocumented immigrants are scared.

Eduardo, a cook at a restaurant in Aspen, didn't consider skipping work last week. "I'm not afraid," he said, explaining that he believes if you work well nobody will bother you. Eduardo's name was nevertheless changed to protect his identity.

"It's like that in all countries," he said.

Ron, a valley resident and U.S. citizen who recently wed an undocumented Mexican immigrant, said he was amazed by his new wife's secure attitude.

"Just [yesterday] morning I asked her, 'Did you hear about the rumors about roadblocks on Highway 82?' She said, 'Yeah.'

'Have you heard the rumors about raids up in Aspen?'

'Yeah. I'm not scared. [If I get deported] I'll be back in two weeks.'"

One Latina woman deemed that thieves and drunks should be shuttled back south, but hard-working laborers, even undocumented ones, shouldn't be considered criminals. "Give [them] the opportunity to work," she said.

Residing in the United States without permission is actually a civil offense, not a crime, explained Deputy Marie Munday of the Pitkin County Sheriff's Office. "Illegal immigrants" is not an accurate description since they are not criminals, she said.

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