(Adds Obama comments on timetable for immigration reform)
PHOENIX, Nov 14 (Reuters) - Ricardo, an illegal immigrant
from Mexico, sets off each day before dawn looking for casual
work in construction not knowing if he will return home to his
wife and three children or get snared in an immigration sweep.
Lately, he feels the pervasive fear slowly lifting.
Ricardo, 46, is among millions of Latino immigrants who,
regardless of their immigration status, feel fresh optimism this
week over newfound Republican willingness to consider
immigration reform to avoid further alienating Hispanic voters
who proved key to re-electing President Barack Obama.
Some leading Republicans have signaled a shift away from an
enforcement-only approach to illegal immigration, with U.S.
House Speaker John Boehner saying that a "comprehensive approach
is long overdue."
"When we head out ... it's always with the fear that we
might not all make it back home," Ricardo said in Spanish,
perched on the couch in his Phoenix apartment with his wife,
Alicia, 43. "But now you can see the light at the end of the
Emboldened by the large turnout of Hispanic voters in last
week's general election, Obama said on Wednesday he plans to
move quickly to address comprehensive immigration reform after
he is sworn in for his second term in office in January.
"My expectation is that we get a bill introduced and we
begin the process in Congress very soon after my inauguration,"
Obama, a Democrat, said at his first press conference since
A legislative package would include strengthening border
security, penalties for employers that hire undocumented workers
and an avenue for many of the roughly 11.2 million illegal
immigrants in the United States to gain citizenship, he said.
Earlier, in a sign of growing bipartisan support, Democratic
Senator Charles Schumer said on Sunday he and Republican Lindsey
Graham had agreed to restart talks on a proposal for a
Not since President George W. Bush's 2007 push for broad
immigration reform, which ultimately died in the Senate, have
Hispanics and other immigrants here heard such promising words.
For Ricardo and Alicia, who have stayed on in Arizona
despite a state clampdown on illegal immigration designed to
drive them out, comprehensive immigration reform holds out the
possibility of a permanent status for themselves and a more
secure future for their children.
The couple, who asked not to be identified by their last
name, crossed over the desert to Arizona from Mexico 11 years
ago and now work as a builder and house cleaner. They first sent
the children, now 21, 16 and 13, to the United States by bus
with false papers, then walked across the desert themselves.
Now fluent in English and Spanish, the children consider
themselves Americans and the oldest is planning to apply for
deferred deportation status. They felt threatened by the Arizona
crackdown but decided not to flee.
"We've focused on working and bringing up our children
honorably," said Alicia, adding that immigration reform "could
make it easier for my children to carry on studying."
GROWING PART OF ELECTORATE
Latinos are the largest minority and the fastest-growing
demographic in the United States, amounting to 10 percent of the
voting public in last week's election, up from 8 percent in 2008
according to the Pew Hispanic Center.
They also largely supported Obama, with his backing among
Hispanic voters in the election coming in at about 66 percent,
according to Reuters/Ipsos polling data, roughly in line with
the percentage that voted for him four years ago.
"The conservative movement should have particular appeal to
people in minority and immigrant communities who are trying to
make it, and Republicans need to work harder than ever to
communicate our beliefs to them," Florida Senator Marco Rubio
said last week.
For Mexico-born Justino Mora, a student in Los Angeles who
won temporary legal status under relaxed deportation rules but
whose mother remains undocumented, the new focus on immigration
reform left him hopeful but wanting more.
"It's really strange knowing that my two siblings and I ...
are protected from deportation and have the ability to work in
the U.S., get a Social Security number and apply for a driver's
license, but my mom does not," said Mora, 23.
Even as some Republicans have expressed willingness to
consider an immigration overhaul, others, including Republican
Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, who has been at odds with the Obama
administration on immigration policy, have resisted such calls.
Brewer, whose state requires police to check the immigration
status of anyone they stop and suspect is in the country
illegally, warned in a statement against rushing "head-long into
a 'solution' that only makes things worse."
With mixed messages from Republicans, some Latino immigrants
remain wary about whether they could trust Republicans to
represent their interests going forward.
"You can't trust them: They tell you one thing and they do
something else ... There's a lot of them who don't like
Hispanics," said Mexican day laborer Baltazar Lara, 54, as he
risked arrest waiting to be hired outside a Phoenix-area
But Mexico-born Edder Diaz, 22, who volunteered to help
register Hispanic voters across the Phoenix valley ahead of the
election, said he remained open to the possibility of one day
voting Republican should he win citizenship.
"For me, personally, I see myself as independent ... If a
Republican understands my needs ... I may vote for them," said
Diaz. "Up to this point they have only been playing political
games to get themselves elected. There may be a possibility."
(Additional reporting by David Adams in Miami; Editing by
Cynthia Johnston, Mary Milliken, Cynthia Osterman and Jim Loney)