Des Moines Register 01-02-07 Atmosphere of fear gives rise to injustices By TIA HUGGINS SPECIAL TO THE REGISTER Much of the debate about immigration in the past few weeks after the raid at the Swift & Co. meatpacking plant in Marshalltown betrays misunderstanding about conditions in the workers' home countries and U.S. immigration law. Many immigrants come here to escape abject poverty or persecution of a type unfathomable to most Americans. The literacy rate is low because so many children are forced to begin working as young as 7. Their parents do not have enough money to send them to school. It is very difficult for most immigrants to establish legal residency. Cubans and Sudanese can file as refugees, but most other immigrants need to have a family member apply on their behalf. The wait can take a generation, so many come illegally. They then lose most options for gaining legal status and often fall victim to injustices. Here are a few of the situations I've encountered during more than 15 years of work with Iowa's Spanish-speaking population as a volunteer, interpreter and an interviewer for research projects: - While visiting participants in an Iowa State University project, I met a Mexican man living in a small town in Iowa who showed me some documentation in English that he wanted help in deciphering. It was a deportation order. A person who claimed to be an attorney had gone through the town, collected fees from several residents and filed paperwork on their behalf. The truth was that the man had no way to become a legal resident and the papers filed by the attorney only called attention to his presence and set wheels in motion for authorities to deport him. - Another family from northern Iowa could have filed for legal residency for the husband through family status but chose not to do so to avoid a long separation of the family. The wife was born in Texas, so she was a citizen, as were their two young children. But they were afraid to file for legal residency because some friends in the same situation had done so, and the father had to wait for years in Mexico. Eventually, he came back without permission, was caught and was deported. A permanent bar was issued so that he will never be able to return to the United States. - I was called by an insurance company to interpret at a Des Moines hospital for a construction worker whose hand was severed in an accident. He had five children and a wife back in Mexico, but when asked for his address and Social Security number, he couldn't seem to find that information. Because of his fears about revealing his immigration status, he will return, permanently handicapped, to his country of origin with no compensation for his disability. Human decency seems to dictate that he should have some type of compensation, no matter what name or Social Security number he was using. It is a fearful thing when we treat people as outlaws when they wish only to support their families. Those of us who were born in the wealthiest nation in the world did nothing to deserve that privilege any more than those born into countries that are underdeveloped or plagued by civil unrest deserve to be murdered or die of starvation. We need to remember how we are alike, have some compassion and call for justice for those who cannot do so for themselves. TIA HUGGINS will enter the Peace Corps with the Healthy Schools program in Guatemala this month. She has been a faculty member in the World Languages and Cultures Department at Iowa State University, teaching Spanish.