UPDATE 1-US immigration U-turn has Hispanics seeing 'light at end of tunnel'

Tim Gaynor
Reuters Middle East

(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

winning re-election.

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

comprehensive overhaul.

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."


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)