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Fate uncertain for workers


If President Obama's executive action regarding immigration is permanently blocked, large numbers of people, including many in the Rochester and Finger Lakes region, will face deportation, says Wally Ruehle, an attorney with the Legal Aid Society who has worked with many immigrants to stop deportation efforts.

Members of Congress should get to know the people who work in low-skilled jobs, Ruehle says. Chances are that many of them are undocumented workers, he says, and that Congress members are already acquainted with them.

"I think if they drew on that experience, they would say that these folks are good people contributing to our country doing the type of work that most Americans — for whatever reason — are not willing to do," he says.

Obama's executive action would shield about 5 million people from deportation. About 3.5 million of them are parents who live in the US without documentation and whose children were born here and are US citizens.

The Obama administration postponed the president's action after a judge for the Federal District Court in Texas ruled in favor of a suit filed by Texas and 25 other states.

According to the court ruling, the action would create a financial burden for the states by forcing them to provide additional public services without adequate preparation.

The Justice Department has asked for a stay, which would allow the administration to continue planning to implement the action while an appeal is heard.

Instead of demonizing the undocumented workers, Ruehle says, Congress needs to overhaul the country's outdated immigration laws.

"Give them legal status so we can recognize their contributions," he says.

Peter Mares is a US citizen of Mexican descent and an activist in Sodus who works with the area's undocumented workers. He says he fears that deportation will be stepped up in the future if the executive order is blocked.

Most of the undocumented workers in this area are from Mexico, El Salvador, and Guatemala, Mares says. And most do not come here for seasonal farm work and then return home, he says; they live here all year, and many work as groundskeepers, maids, and dishwashers in hotels and restaurants.

"They are the people supporting this country with their backs, hands, and bodies," Mares says. "If there really comes a day without these workers, this would not be the country we have now."

Mares says that he's lost count of the number of people he knows who have been deported.

"I could go on and on with names," he says.