Boston bombing affects US immigration reform | Americas| North and South American news impacting on Europe | DW | 04.05.2013
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Boston bombing affects US immigration reform

Immigration reform is stalling again in the US Congress. The Boston bombing could have a bearing on how quickly reforms are put into place. John Sepulvado explains what that means for one town in the California desert.

On weekdays, Javier Lopez wakes up at 4 a.m. He puts on his underwear, two pairs of white cotton socks, heavy linen-pants, a t-shirt, a flannel shirt, a red-and-black bandana, and a hat. Lopez shows up at work at 5 a.m.

By 10 a.m. the temperature reaches 35 degrees Celsius.

At noon, the average temperature is 43C. By this time, Lopez will have taken a 10-minute lunch. He'll have three more hours before he can go home. 

"I wear so many clothes because you can get bit by vermin or insects. Also, I think it's cooler if the water, the sweat soaks the shirts."

The pit at a mobile home park where sewage comes up from the ground. (Photo: DW/John Sepulvado)

Half of Mecca's population live below the poverty line

At 3 p.m. Lopez will finish his 10-hour work day. He says he lives in a mobile home park outside of Mecca. These parks are notorious for being substandard. The water is undrinkable, the sewage leaks out of pipes and is pushed to the surface. Many of the mobile homes don't have electricity. But Lopez says the conditions don't bother him. He says the horrible conditions are offset by cheap rent, and that's helping him save money for his own business.

"I want to open a home-care business," Lopez explains. "I see a way out [of the fields]. I'm thankful for the work now, but eight [dollars] an hour isn't going to be good enough forever."

Lopez says he's a US citizen and is now waiting until his wife gets her US work permit before they apply for the license.

"I can't do it myself, it's really her idea," he says. "It just takes forever."

Stalled debate

The process for Lopez's wife, and millions of other immigrants waiting for reform, will most likely keep dragging on for the foreseeable future. At the beginning of April, the US Congress appeared close to forging a compromise on a new immigration law.

But after the Boston Marathon bombings, and the revelation that the alleged bombers immigrated to the US, debate has stalled in Congress.

United States Senator Rand Paul (Photo: DW/Ron Sachs / CNP)

Paul says the Boston attack is reason to be cautious on immigration reform

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, a popular Republican with a rising national profile, sent a letter to the Senate leadership urging them to slow the process.

Paul wrote that he believes "any real comprehensive immigration reform must implement strong national security protections. The facts emerging in the Boston Marathon bombing have exposed a weakness in our current system. If we don't use this debate as an opportunity to fix flaws in our current system, flaws made even more evident last week, then we will not be doing our jobs."

While other prominent Republicans, including 2012 Vice-Presidential candidate Paul Ryan, have called on Congress to take action on immigration, top GOP leaders appear to have lined up behind Sen. Paul, and are slowing the process.

That delay has real-world consequences for people who have immigrated into the US illegally. President Barack Obama has moved to be seen as a tough-on-crime executive. Under his direction, the US has deported a record number of Latinos and other immigrants. Some 1.5 million people have been removed from the country since Obama took office. Many have been arrested on the job or while driving to work.

The deportations have also clogged the federal courts, meaning some immigrants picked up for a petty immigration offense are deported after months of waiting.

One version of the proposed immigration bill would allow people who are in the US illegally to apply for citizenship. It would also allow people that have been deported to eventually rejoin their families in the US.

Administration officials are adamant that the deportations won't stop until the new law is passed.

A town on the margins

The deportations and other law enforcement actions have led to deep fear and paranoia in Mecca. People here in this town of 7,000 are afraid to talk to newcomers, or any type of authority-figure.

This sign in Spanish warns workers not to stay on the premises of this abandoned Laundromat. (Photo: DW/John Sepulvado)

'Prohibited by law:' Fear is preventing progress in Mecca

"Anybody in a uniform, even a fireman, even though they have nothing to do with law enforcement, [the people here] are afraid of them," says Maria Machuca, a social worker and school board member. She says the fear in the town prevents progress, as migrants and other residents are afraid to call police or their landlord or even the power company.

"They don't call 911," she says. "They show up at the hospital, or they come to the clinic here thinking they're going to get care."

While Machuca says the conditions in Mecca are "like a third-world country," the community has made strides. A new community center has been built, crime has gone down, and the rampant signs of alcoholism - mainly discarded beer bottles and cans on the street - are disappearing.

"Life is improving here," Machuca says. "But it would improve a lot quicker if people weren't afraid of anybody they didn't recognize."

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