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Illegal immigrants hope for Gore victory

Last updated 11:34 AM, EST, Sunday, November 26, 2000

GARY, Ind. (AP) -- A segment of American society that could not vote in the presidential election is hoping the ongoing dispute over Florida's uncounted ballots leads to a victory for Al Gore.

Many of the nearly 6 million illegal immigrants living in the United States -- including an estimated 300,000 in the northwest Indiana and Chicago region -- believe a Gore victory could lead to the passage of a new amnesty program that would allow them to become U.S. citizens.

A victory for George W. Bush, some fear, could mean the death of the Latino and Immigrant Fairness Act, which is backed by the Clinton administration.

Without passage of LIFA, thousands who have crossed the border illegally or have overstayed their visas will have to leave the U.S. Many are now parents to American-born children.

"For immigrants, this is very, very important," said Lawrence Sharp, executive director of the International Institute of Northwest Indiana. "Republicans have made it so severe for immigrants right now. There are lots and lots of people who are very concerned."

Congress and the White House are now deadlocked over whether to include LIFA in next year's spending bill for the departments of Commerce, Justice and State. Clinton has threatened not to approve the spending bill if it does not contain LIFA.

The act will primarily help those illegal immigrants from Central American and Caribbean countries who failed to apply for a visa by a Jan. 14, 1998 deadline. That deadline was part of a law passed in 1994 that allowed those living in the U.S. illegally to apply for a visa by paying a $1,000 fine and a $280 processing fee.

Many immigration-rights activists feared millions of illegal immigrants would not meet the deadline. Under current law, illegal immigrants who failed to meet the deadline must return to their native country to apply for U.S. citizenship there, even if they are married to a legal U.S. resident.

That process could take as long as 10 years, Sharp said.

"Many have children who were born here. It's the children that are being injured," Sharp said. "They have house payments, car payments. Some will have to put their lives on hold."

LIFA would allow illegal immigrants to stay in the U.S. and permit them to work. With the strong economy, Sharp said there is a shortage of workers in the U.S., which has forced a need for cheap labor, mainly in the form of illegal immigrants.

"If you know these people, you're for them. He has a family. He comes to work every day. He's a good employee," Sharp said. "They do everything legal, except for the fact they came in illegally."

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