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Immigration plan's winners and losers


People come to the US to escape extreme poverty and violence, said one Upstate New York immigrant farmworker after hearing President Obama's immigration speech last week.

"We're here to do the right thing and provide food for everyone," he said. "I didn't come to this country to produce weapons or smuggle drugs. I produce food."

Reactions to the president's historic plan to protect more than five million undocumented immigrants from deportation ranged from elation to utter contempt.

The Migration Policy Institute estimates that there are about 5.2 million individuals who will not face deportation as a result of Obama's plan. Immigrants who are parents of US citizens will be allowed to live and work in the US for three years.

The plan doesn't benefit immigrants who have been in the US for less than five years, or those who do not have children here.

Some farmworkers in Upstate New York say that they are glad that the president acted unilaterally instead of waiting for the new Congress to weigh in after the first of the year.

But in a phone interview last week, many farmworkers and their advocates said that they are disappointed because Obama's announcement will not impact them.

Some of the workers have lived and been employed in the area that stretches from Niagara Falls to the Finger Lakes for more than five years on dairy and livestock farms, as well as harvesting everything from corn to grapes. But they lack the paperwork to prove it, says Carly Fox, an advocate with Worker Justice Center of New York.

Others are single and do not have children living in the US, she says.

Though the Rochester Business Alliance hasn't investigated the matter, retiring president and CEO Sandra Parker says that she believes that most business leaders in the area agree with the president's plan.

"My gut reaction is that they are pretty supportive of it, but not the way that it was implemented," she says.

Agriculture, which is important to this area, depends on these workers. But the area's colleges and universities are also educating many foreign students in the medical, technology, and engineering fields who return to other countries, which benefit from that education, Parker says.

"We want them to stay here," she says.

It's unclear exactly how many undocumented immigrants are working in the Rochester and Finger Lakes region or how many would benefit from the president's plan.

MPI, however, estimates that there are about 873,000 unauthorized immigrants living in New York State. The majority of them are from Central America, and about 22 percent are from Mexico.

But many are also from South America and Asia. Most are between the ages of 25 and 54. Though they work in almost every industry, about 45 percent do not speak English and more than half do not have health insurance.