Out Of The Shadows

It was the hot-button topic in California, the state's most potent political issue: migrants crossing the border from Mexico into California without legal documents.

In 1994, Pete Wilson came from behind to win a smashing re-election as governor. He rode a tide of anti-immigrant feeling that peaked with passage of Proposition 187, halting most services to illegal immigrants.

"It's a community that's still in fear. And still in the shadows," says political scientist Harry Pachon.

But, as CBS News Anchor Dan Rather reports, undocumented workers are coming out of the shadows in California. Shopping center guard Tony Meglio sees illegals every day of the week.

"They re looking for work," Meglio says. And, he adds, their job hunting is successful "most of the time."

If these illegal immigrants are finding work, so are most Americans. These are good economic times. And as California unemployment dipped from 8 percent to a bit more than 5 percent, the fear and anger toward undocumented workers dropped too.

"It was a product of the politicians cynically playing on people's fears about their economic security," says Robert Rubin, an attorney who represents immigrants.
Mexicans cross the border into California.

But if the issue of illegals has faded, the aliens themselves keep on coming. New fencing south of San Diego has pushed the migrant trail east into the mountains. At a popular border crossing, we even found a vendor supporting his family by selling food to illegals, including candy bars for quick energy.

"What we have is a change in California," says Harry Pachon.

Pachon says legal and illegal immigrants are shaping a new state: "That California is darker skinned, sometimes speaks with accents, sometimes has a foreign birthplace."

And those here legally vote in ever greater numbers.

Nearly 80 percent of Hispanics voted for California's new governor, Gray Davis. Last month, Davis agreed to essentially scrap Proposition 187, the anti-immigrant law.

Arrests continue, but now in these good economic times, federal authorities are focusing less on illegal workers and more on those who commit crimes.

"Obviously, we don't have the resource to go out and apprehend each of these individuals. First and foremost on the list is removing criminal aliens," says INS official Charles DeMore.

But if hard times return, say immigrant advocates, so too will the immigrant bashing.

"It's an issue that's right below the surface all the time," says Pachon.

Not all illegal residents are settling for unskilled, low-paying jobs. Many came here legally to work in growing industries such as the high-teh field and simply overstayed their temporary visas.

©1999 CBS Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed
  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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