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Area watches immigration policy closely

By Ed Brock

Standing in the cold and rain, waiting for a job for the day, Jesus Sanchez explains to his companions President Bush's proposal for a new immigration policy.

The policy would allow undocumented workers in the country who can prove they have a job to obtain an initial three-year work permit that would be renewable for an unspecified period. The plan, unveiled by Bush on Wednesday, would also allow those still in their home country who can show they have a job waiting for them to obtain the permit.

"I think it's a good program for everybody," said Sanchez of College Park. "He will change all Hispanic people's lives."

Many of the other day laborers gathered with Sanchez Friday morning near the McDonalds on Jonesboro Road in Forest Park agreed.

"For me it's a good program," Genaro Sanchez of Forest Park said.

One man, Juan Reyes of Forest Park, told Jesus Sanchez he was hopeful for the program.

"He's here for three years but he's worried what he'll do after three years," Jesus Sanchez said.

More than 700 Hispanics, primarily from Mexico and other Hispanic-rich states, moved to Georgia every week during the first two years of this decade.

In Clayton County, almost one out of every 10 persons (9.1 percent) is Hispanic. During that period from 2000 to 2002, the county's Hispanic population grew by 27 percent, drawn primarily by the search for jobs and to be reunited with relatives.

Bush's proposal has been drawing mixed reactions around the nation, with conservatives saying it goes too far and rewards those who entered the country illegally and others saying it doesn't offer enough because it is not a path to citizenship.

The Latin American Association of Atlanta, which has an office in Forest Park, released only a general statement on the policy proposal.

"As a social services agency we are well aware of the human cost of living in the shadows of American life as referred to by President Bush," said Maritza Pichon, LAA executive director. "The lack of dignity, the vulnerability for abuse and the inability to establish a stable environment for workers and their families that promotes full commitment to the American way of life can in and of itself be detrimental for our society. We applaud the President of the United States for addressing this important and historically significant part of American history."

U.S. Rep. David Scott, D-Georgia, whose district includes Clayton County and part of Henry County, said he is eager to work with the president on the issue.

"I have a lot of questions," Scott said. "It has a very dramatic impact and the bottom line for me is I'd like to get the information in front of me."

Among the questions Scott has are what kind of message the policy will send to people trying to come into the country and the "unintentional consequences of encouraging greater traffic into the country and our ability to absorb it."

"One thing I'm very concerned with is there's nothing here about the closing of our borders from a national security standpoint," Scott said.

America is a country of immigrants, Scott said, and "our diversity is what makes us strong." He applauded the president because the policy "laid things on the table."

The plan also raised some questions for retired daycare operator and part-time political activist Barbara Torbett of Stockbridge.

"What exactly is the purpose of this?" Torbett said. "What about those who did get citizenship and went through the proper channels? How will they feel about it?"

Torbett said she also worries that the plan might take jobs away from American citizens, born and naturalized, and that it might appear to be a reward for those who broke the law.

"If you reward a child for bad behavior, chances are they'll do it again," Torbett said.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.