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One Iowa city's mixed views on immigration

As the caucuses loom, residents of Waterloo want the nation's broken immigration system fixed – but they don't want any one group to become penalized or singled out.

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Police Officer Hector Camrin, himself the son of immigrants from the Philippines, says from his perspective, it's not a law-enforcement issue. As he patrols the streets here, he's found there are no more "bad" people in the illegal community than there are in the legal one. For him, and others interviewed here, it's a question of fairness.

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"My personal feeling is that if you're in this country, there are ways to become citizens," he says. "When illegals come here and don't make the effort [to become citizens], then that just tarnishes everything my parents did and what every other immigrant did for years past before that."

People within the immigrant community – many of whom know people and are related to people who are here illegally – are just as adamant that the system needs to be fixed.

Ana Avila became a citizen two years ago, even though she's been in the country since she was a child. She now has three children who are also citizens, but her husband is not.

"We are not bad people. We are just here to make a living, and if we can be here legally, it's better," she says. "There's a shadow now, when my husband goes out: I do worry about him, and there are a lot of people who live like that."

Her husband was going to apply to become a citizen last year – even though he feared he might just be sent back to Mexico. But when Congress started to debate immigration reform proposals last year, he decided it was more prudent to wait. For one, some of the bills would have required people to go back to their original countries for as long as five years before they could apply to return as citizens. Ms. Avila couldn't imagine losing her husband for five years, so they decided to wait to see what Washington ultimately does.

"Most people would rather be legal and do things right," she says. "Right now, if you don't have a Social Security number, you can't get a driver's license. And if you can't get [that], you can't get insurance – and that's bad, too."

Avila worked for 11 years in a meatpacking plant here, but for health reasons, she had to quit. She now works part time for a community outreach group called El Centro, which is dedicated to helping Waterloo's different communities come together. At a recent Christmas party at the downtown YWCA, El Centro's director, Kim Hernandez, also said that something has to be done to resolve the issue.

"I would hope that if someone put a magnifying glass on Waterloo that they could walk away with an understanding of the necessity of the immigrant community – not just here but throughout the United States," says Ms. Hernandez. "[I hope they would] realize that people who are here without papers are still people, and see the humanity in them."

Back at La Chiquita restaurant, the Rices voice similar concerns and a desire that politicians would finally get immigration policy straightened out.

"This is a community that desperately needs good labor.... If you can do the job, you'll get hired. That said, you can't just open the borders," says Mr. Rice, a recruiting consultant, as his wife nods agreement. "We do have to shore up the borders and toughen up enforcement. But if you are here, there should be a process in place to legalize you."

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