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News analysis -- Bill raises immigration concerns

March 27, 2002

Lolita Harper

COSTA MESA -- A federal bill that would allow some illegal immigrants

to stay in the country while their residency paperwork is processed is

getting a decidedly mixed reaction in this increasingly diverse

community.

Such talk of change already has sparked debate and speculation in

Costa Mesa, which the 2000 census found to be nearly 32% Latino, and

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particularly its Westside, where a 1997 survey shows 44% of the residents

are Latino.

President Bush is urging the Senate to act quickly to pass the

legislation, saying it would demonstrate America's compassion.

The proposed measure would allow thousands of people who either

entered the country illegally or overstayed their visas to remain in the

country while completing the necessary paperwork for legal residency.

Applicants would be fined $1,000 but would not be forced to return to

their homelands to file and face a potential 10-year wait to return, as

existing law mandates.

A long, heated debate

Some residents argue the city is overrun by illegal immigrants who

contribute to higher crime rates and lower student test scores. Others

say immigrants perform a vital function in society by doing menial jobs

others refuse to do. The debate is heated and fueled by years of changing

demographics.

City officials have maintained that there are no published or accurate

statistics on the number of undocumented workers living within Costa

Mesa. It is unlikely to have documentation on undocumented workers, City

Manager Allan Roeder has said.

Despite the lack of official numbers, the effects of illegal

immigration are apparent in the city.

Yardel Duran, who was looking for work near the Costa Mesa Job Center

last week, admitted he was living in the city illegally. He defended his

position as one of mere survival and refuted the notion that he is a

societal plague, adding that he pays rent and sales tax.

"At least I'm out here working for a living instead of selling drugs

or robbing people," he said.

If given the chance to become a legal citizen, he would, he said, but

not for $1,000.

"It's too much money," Duran said in Spanish. "If I had $1,000 in my

pocket, I wouldn't be out here looking for work."

Aaron Estrado, who presented documentation of residency, said living

here legally is not an incentive in itself.

"I did things the way they wanted me to, and what do I get? Taxed.

Papers equal taxes. That's just the way it goes," Estrado said.

His legal status affords him comfort from possible deportation, but he

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