Still Sobbing Over Crackdowns on Illegals

Boo hoo: "She is a homeowner, a taxpayer, a friendly neighbor and an American citizen. Yet because she is married to an illegal immigrant, these days she feels like a fugitive."

Reporter Julia Preston delivered another of her usual sympathetic, slanted takes on the plight of illegal immigrants in Waukegan, Ill. for Friday's edition - "Fearing Deportation but Clinging to Life and Homes in U.S."

"She is a homeowner, a taxpayer, a friendly neighbor and an American citizen. Yet because she is married to an illegal immigrant, these days she feels like a fugitive."

"Whenever her Mexican husband ventures out of the house, 'it makes me sick to my stomach,' said the woman, who insisted on being identified only by a first name and last initial, Miriam M.

"'I'm like, 'Oh, my God, he took too long,'' she said. 'I'll start calling. I go into panic.'

"Over the last year, thousands of illegal immigrants and their families who live here have retreated from community life in Waukegan, a microcosm of a growing underground of illegal immigrants across the country who are clinging to homes and jobs despite the pressure of tougher federal and local enforcement.

"From Illinois to Georgia to Arizona, these families are hiding in plain sight, to avoid being detected by immigration agents and deported. They do their shopping in towns distant from home, avoid parties and do not take vacations. They stay away from ethnic stores, forgo doctor's visits and meetings at their children's schools, and postpone girls' normally lavish quinceañeras, or 15th birthday parties.

"They avoid the police, even hesitating to report crimes."

(Preston wrote a very similar sob story in December 2006 after raids at a Colorado meatpacking plant, part of a federal operation against identity theft.)

More from Friday:

"A survey by the Pew Hispanic Center, a nonpartisan research group in Washington, found in December that 53 percent of Hispanics in the United States worry that they or a loved one could be deported.

"Stores catering to Hispanic immigrants in places like Atlanta and Cincinnati have closed because of the drop in customers. Michael L. Barrera, president of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said anecdotal reports had indicated that small storefront businesses had been the hardest hit by a sharp decline in spending by immigrants.

"'The raids have really spooked them in a big way,' said Douglas S. Massey, a Princeton demographer who has studied Mexican immigrants for three decades.

"Based on his own surveys and recent reports from other scholars doing field research in the Southwest and in North Carolina and other states, Professor Massey said the 'palpable sense of fear and of traumatization' in immigrant communities was more intense than at any other time since the mass deportations of Mexican farm workers in 1954.

"Federal immigration officials say that stepped-up enforcement over the last year by the Bush administration and some local authorities has persuaded growing numbers of illegal immigrants to return home. But in places like Waukegan, a racially mixed middle-class suburb north of Chicago, most have chosen to stay, held by families and jobs."

"Nonetheless, for many residents fear has become a daily companion. One woman, a 37-year-old naturalized citizen who was born in Central America but grew up in Waukegan, has decided to stay away from the city even though her mother still lives here. The woman, a lawyer practicing in the Chicago area, fell in love with an illegal immigrant from Guatemala.

"After they were married in 2004, she realized that under immigration law it would be difficult for him to become legal, even though she is a citizen. Because he had crossed the border illegally, seeking legal status would require him to return to Guatemala for years of separation, with no guarantee of success. She abandoned plans to move back to Waukegan. She and her husband feel safer in Chicago, with its large Hispanic population.

"'I know everything about Waukegan; it's my town,' said the woman, who asked to remain anonymous because of her husband's status. 'I know the high school, the first Mexican restaurant. I should feel free to go in and out whenever I want to. But it's not the same freedom anymore.'"