Friday, December 21, 2007

Immigration: Losing the War of Ideas, Again

By Tom Barry
In the war of ideas over immigration, liberals are in disarray. Anti-immigration advocates have created the ideological frameworks—security, rule of law, nationalism—that now frame the raging immigration debate. Meanwhile, immigration advocates find that their own humanitarian, economic, and historical arguments supporting liberal immigration flows have little resonance in the public debate.
The restrictionist surge comes at a time when other forces of the right—especially the social conservatives and the neoconservatives—see their hold on the national policy agenda slipping. Liberal ideas on health care, anti-discrimination, environmental protection, economic policy, and international affairs are now ascendant in U.S. politics.
Why then, when liberals have managed to push the right to the sidelines on most issues, have the restrictionists succeeded so dramatically in shifting the immigration debate to their terms?
In part, immigration restrictionism dominates the debate because immigration advocates have failed to frame immigration issues in a way that reaches the U.S. public. They have also failed to counter the new messaging and organizing by the immigration restrictionists, or to adapt to the changing security and economic conditions in the United States.
In contrast, immigration restrictionists have proved adept at adapting their messaging to the evolving concerns in U.S. communities. What’s more, by mobilizing activist constituencies they have blocked comprehensive immigration reform in Washington and successfully advanced harsh restrictionist policies at both the local and federal levels.
Slow Rise of Restrictionism
For more than 20 years immigration restrictionists were outsiders. They emerged in the political landscape of the late 1970s along with the social conservatives and neoconservatives. With origins in the environmental and population control movements, restrictionist groups like the Federation of American Immigration Reform (FAIR) were viewed warily at first by the New Right forces of the Republican Party.
But the restrictionists slowly began to expand their reach in the 1990s. As immigration flows into the United States increased and the number of children born to immigrant parents rose, restrictionist alarmism about the threat of immigrants to the U.S. economy and society spread.
New anti-immigration groups joined FAIR in promoting the restrictionist cause in Washington. However, it was at the state level that the restrictionists had their first victory. With the support of the restrictionist lobby in the nation’s capital, local restrictionist groups organized anti-immigration referendums in California and several other states in the mid-1990s. The anti-immigrant Proposition 187 in California passed with nearly 60% of the vote in 1994.
But the restrictionist victory in California was short-lived. A federal court overturned the measure. Anti-immigrant organizing in other states such as Texas and Florida stalled, and the restrictionists turned their attention back to Washington.
The booming U.S. economy of the late 1990s, along with the prevailing enthusiasm for globalization, didn’t provide fertile ground for anti-immigrant movements. By June 2007, when Congress was considering a comprehensive immigration reform bill, restrictionism was sweeping through the country powered by a new anti-immigration rhetoric stressing national security, respect for the rule of law, and the well-being of citizen workers and government services.
Anti-Immigration Patriotism
September 11th changed everything for the restrictionists. In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks and with the launch of the ad-ministration’s “war against global terrorism,” anti-immigration groups reframed their restrictionism to tap into the swell of concern about U.S. national security. Alarm about the “invasion of aliens” across the U.S.-Mexico border, previously couched in the language of cultural nationalism, is now framed as a national security issue. The xenophobia, nationalism, and racism of many radical restrictionists became draped in patriotism after Sept. 11, 2001.
While before September 11th, the restrictionists were voices in the desert warning against porous borders and the threat of “aliens” to our national security, most proponents of immigration reform now routinely preface arguments for legalization with promises to secure U.S. borders.
By ignoring or downplaying border control concerns for so many years, immigration advocates had left the “security” framework open for the restrictionists to seize. Now, liberal immigration reformers regularly incorporate calls for improved security into their arguments for comprehensive immigration reform. During the November 15 candidate debate, Barack Obama, responding to a question about immigration, said: “As president I will make sure that we finally have the kind of border security that we need. That’s step number one.”
Liberals have lost the war of ideas about security and immigration. By the time immigrant rights advocates joined the national security debate, the anti-immigration groups already owned the issue. Never having seriously weighed in on border control issues (a longtime rallying call for the restrictionists), those advocating comprehensive immigration reform had little credibility on the security and immigration issue. Unable to advance counterar-guments—such as that national security would be best served by processing and legalization of unauthorized immigrants rather than driving them further into the shadows—many proponents of comprehensive reform lined up with the restrictionists and their enforcement-first agenda.
“What don’t you understand about illegal?”
Anti-immigration forces in the last several years have also succeeded in popularizing the “rule of law” argument. The current rule of law framework used by restrictionists is an extension of their slogan, “What don’t you understand about illegal?” which they found had great resonance among those looking for a restrictionist argument that wasn’t tinged with racism or nativism.
Building on this demand that the government treat unauthorized immigrants as law breakers, restrictionists have in the past couple of years mounted a broader, conceptual plea that government uphold the “rule of law” and no longer tolerate “illegal” immigrants, who from the moment they crossed the border became criminals, and when in the country routinely engage in document deception and document theft.
An October 2005 Heritage Foundation essay, “Rule of Law at Stake in the Immigration Debate,” helped propel the rule-of-law framework into the mainstream media. Written by former attorney general Edwin Meese, a Heritage Foundation fellow, the essay was broadcast by Fox News. Meese and foundation colleague James Jay Carafano wrote: “We need to encourage federal, state, and local governments to enforce our laws and work together to improve the security infrastructure at points of entry. Enforcement should include prosecuting benefits fraud, identity theft, and tax evasion, in addition to immigration violations.”
Today, the restrictionist camp frequently frames its anti-immigration position as a principled stance in favor of the rule of law. They have positioned themselves as the protectors of law, while they paint immigrants and their defenders as undermining legality in the United States.
Oftentimes, the security and rule-of-law frameworks are conjoined, as presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani does. “Real immigration reform must put security first because border security and homeland security are inseparable in the ‘Terrorists’ War on Us,’” says Giuliani on his website, “The first responsibility of the federal government is to protect our citizens by controlling America’s borders, while ending illegal immigration and identifying every non-citizen in our nation. We must restore integrity, accountability, and the rule of law to our immigration system to regain the faith of the American people.” The rule-of-law framework, as used by the restrictionist movement, has left liberals floundering. After all, there is no denying that 12 million immigrants are in the United States illegally. Not only are they undocumented, but they also use counterfeit documents and fake Social Security numbers when seeking employment or applying for services and utilities.
By appealing to the rule of law, restrictionists tap the core belief of the U.S. public that we are a nation of laws and that no one should stand outside the law. They have transformed a fundamentally liberal concept into a conservative law-and-order framework. On yet another front in the immigration debate, liberals have lost the war of ideas.
Protectionism and Populism
Liberals are also losing the debate in what has traditionally been their strong suit—the economic benefits of immigration. A wealth of data supports the contention that immigrants are good for the economy.
Until the early 1990s restrictionists argued their case mainly on social, cultural, environmental, and even racial grounds. When addressing the economic impact of immigration, the anti-immigration forces mainly focused on the cost to government, particularly local governments, of providing services to poor immigrants.
With the deepening of globalization, right-wing nationalists like Patrick Buchanan began integrating their protectionist positions against free trade and immigrants. Rather than disputing the overall economic benefits of immigration, Buchanan and other economic nationalists challenged the underlying assumption that economic growth always benefits the majority.
It was not, however, until the last several years that economic nationalism has taken hold. In the 1990s, this right-wing populism was driven largely by opposition to NAFTA, the World Trade Organization, and other free trade agreements. In the last several years, the main target of the right-wing populists like Buchanan and CNN’s Lou Dobbs has been immigration. In both cases—free trade and immigration—they make a persuasive case that the main beneficiary is Corporate America, not what Dobbs in his “Broken Borders” program calls the “American citizen.”
While there is certainly an explicit cultural and racial component of the restrictionist movement, the populist message that taps resentment of the government and big business is now central to the anti-immigration movement. This was evident in the post-immigration bill rhetoric of the restrictionists. The defeat of comprehensive immigration was framed as a populist victory against the “establishment.”
Summarizing the restrictionist victory, Buchanan wrote: “The Beltway was routed by a coalition of TV and radio talk show hosts, grassroots activists, and backbenchers with the courage to defy their masters. The regime was run off the hill by the country that it claims to represent.” In his view, the masses won a rare victory. “A defeat like this is almost unheard of in Washington. For when the establishment unites—as it did behind the Panama Canal giveaway and NAFTA—it almost always wins.”
The larger problem is that there is no vibrant social democratic or populist movement on the center-left within which immigrant advocates can situate their demands. Until immigration advocates can take the thunder out of the Lou Dobbsian populism by speaking directly to the economic plight of U.S. citizens and all workers, the prospects for immigration reform that supports a just legalization process are grim.
In the immigration debate, as in all wars of ideas, the challenge is to frame messages that make intuitive sense without being dangerously simplistic and without appealing to the emotions that are easiest to tap—fear and hate.
Tom Barry is a senior analyst with the Americas Policy Program ( at the Center for International Policy. This is an edited version of the original which can be found at:

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Mad Voter: Immigration reform is Dems chance to lead

By: Joan McCarter
• Republican presidential candidates are so focused on proving they'll be tougher than their opponents on illegal immigration that a coalition of clergy are pleading for a cease-fire. Will the candidate's heed their call?

The polls keep coming in on immigration, and the polls keep showing that the message the GOP Presidential candidates (as noted by Richard Martin at New West yesterday) is far harsher than American attitudes on the issue, and the GOP is losing Hispanic voters in droves. Could Republican voters in Iowa really be so concerned by the 3.7 percent of their population that's Hispanic really running everyone else off?
Martin notes a new Pew poll that found "Hispanic registered voters nationally favor Democrats to Republicans by 57 to 23 percent, a 34-point gap that has increased by more than 10 points since 2006." And how about this LA Times poll

that shows 60 percent national support for an earned path to citizenship for the 11-12 million undocumented immigrants in the country. Remarkably, this poll shows 62% support for this earned path with Republican voters. And this poll, like almost every other poll taken in the last few years shows immigration to the be the top issue with just 15 percent of all voters (see this new memo from the National Immigration Forum summarizing dozens of public polls on immigration). [Emphasis in the original.]
It could be voters have a much more nuanced and sophisticated approach to the issue than the pundits and politicians give them credit for. Wouldn't that be a surprise. That more nuanced view could come from actual experience. Consider what's happened in Arizona since the state passed a new harsh law that cracks down on employers who hire undocumented workers, as reported by The Wall Street Journal.

PHOENIX -- Arizona businesses are firing Hispanic immigrants, moving operations to Mexico and freezing expansion plans ahead of a new law that cracks down on employers who hire undocumented workers....

Arizona's law, believed to be the strictest in the nation, is shaping up as a test of how employers will react when faced with real sanctions for hiring undocumented labor. It is being closely watched by businesses across the country. While proponents say the crackdown will save the state money on services for illegal immigrants, some businesspeople fear Arizona's economic growth may be at risk.

Under the law, people will be encouraged to contact a county sheriff's or county attorney's office to report businesses they suspect of employing an illegal immigrant. After the sheriff investigates, the county attorney can then seek to suspend and ultimately revoke the business license of an employer who knowingly hires an illegal immigrant. The measure would also require all Arizona businesses to use E-Verify, a federal online database, to confirm that new hires have valid Social Security numbers and are eligible for employment....

About 500,000 undocumented immigrants live in Arizona, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, and independent estimates suggest about 350,000 of them are working. Immigrants, both legal and illegal, account for 14% of the work force. The state enjoys one of the fastest-growing economies in the nation, and its unemployment rate last year was just 3.3%.

A University of Arizona study released earlier this year concluded that economic output would drop 8.2% annually if noncitizen foreign-born workers were removed from the labor force. Researchers estimate about two-thirds of the workers in that category are in the state illegally.

That's the part of the debate that all too often gets left out when cynical politicians try to exploit the unease and the fear so many feel when the economy is faltering, the national mood is uncertain, and people are worried about the security of everything from their jobs, to their homes, to their kids' schools. The problem is, when politicians run on promises of cracking down on illegal immigration, they end up with results like those the Journal reported: businesses closing up and jobs being lost. By increasing the burden for businesses to prove they are only employing documented workers, government is just shifting the economic burden that's one of the primary costs of our broken system.

There's no question that comprehensive immigration policy reform has to happen in this country, but the strategy we see in the GOP candidates of appealing to the worse emotions of their base is doing nothing to advance workable solutions. Immigration could be one of the most significant political and governing opportunities for Democrats in the coming years, and should provide a true test of whether they have what it takes to lead.

Joan McCarter is a contributing editor of and a researcher of Western politics

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


Report On New National Survey On Immigration
Wednesday, 19 December 2007, 10:25 am
Press Release: Democracy Corps

Stan Greenberg and James Carville, Democracy Corps
Mark Feierstein and Al Quinlan, Greenberg Quinlan Rosner

Winning The Immigration Issue - A Report On New National Survey On Immigration
Democracy Corps with Greenberg Quinlan Rosner conducted a survey of 1,000 likely voters November 29-December 3, 2007 that took an extensive look at the issue of illegal immigration. While few issues inspire so much passion as illegal immigration, voters are looking for a solution – after this era of failing on most major problems – that builds on our immigrant tradition.

Download the Memo [PDF]
Download the Survey [PDF]
Download the Graphs [PDF]

In their latest strategy memo, Stan Greenberg, Al Quinlan, Mark Feierstein, and James Carville offer a progressive approach to illegal immigration that shows Democrats are very serious about getting the problem under control, and solving this problem in ways consistent with America's value.
In short, there are 7 steps the Dems must take to win on this vital issue. They are as follows

1• Recognition of the problem: ‘get it.’ Candidates ignore the issue at their peril. It is
essential to convey an appreciation that illegal immigration is out of control and
needs to be addressed immediately and seriously. If leaders do not show their own
frustration with the problem, they will not be heard on this issue – and many others.

2• Attack Bush for losing control of the problem. A strong critique of the Bush
administration’s failure to address this issue shows that we understand the problem
and empathize with voters’ frustration with the lack of leadership on this issue.

3• Enforcement at both the border and with employers. Voters believe that controls at
the borders and enforcement in the workplace have disappeared, allowing the
problem to get out of control. They are particularly angry with companies that are
looking for cheap labor, partially explaining why this is happening.

4• Opposition to non-essential benefits. The public’s leading concern about illegal
immigration is that the immigrants get access to non-essential government benefits at
a time when government spending is squeezed and taxes are a burden. There is
strong opposition to Medicaid, taxpayer-subsidized health care, for illegal
immigrants. But they are also strongly opposed to drivers’ licenses, an implicit
recognition of legal status and claim on benefits.

5• Support for emergency health care and education. Most Americans accept access to
emergency health care for illegal immigrants and education through high school for
the children of illegal immigrants who are U.S. citizens.

6• Positive views of new immigrants. Negative attitudes toward immigrants combine
with a lot of respect – many in a new survey describing them as ‘hard working,’
‘family-oriented’ and ‘trying to be good citizens.’ That creates an opening for an
inclusive approach, based on America’s strength as an immigrant nation. There is
strong support, for example, for undocumented immigrants in the U.S. military being
able to win nearly immediate citizenship.(dream act?)

7• Toward a solution: responsibility and a path to citizenship. A large majority of
voters support a path to citizenship if we are serious about having to qualify for
citizenship: expelling anyone who has committed a crime, others pay a fine and
taxes, learn English, and get in the back of the queue. But if voters hear only the part
about a path to citizenship without the responsibilities, they do not support this – and
punish incumbent Democrats. But if Democrats ‘get it’ and are very serious about
getting the problem under control, including benefits, their leaders can get support for
solving this problem in ways consistent with our values.

Letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Immigration Enforcement Legislation

By James S. Irani, Esq., on behalf of the Iranian-American Voice

December 13, 2007

The Honorable Nancy Pelosi

Speaker of the House

United States House of Representatives

Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Madam Speaker:

We, Iranian-Americans, are writing with profound concern and deep urgency to ask you not to support or cosponsor immigration enforcement legislation (SAVE Act) which has been recently introduced by Rep. Health Shuler (D-NC), and has been cosponsored by, among others, Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO). Let us be as clear as possible: this legislation will do nothing to fix the nation's broken immigration system. But it will break families and communities, as well as our nation's long commitment to fairness and justice. On behalf of some Iranian-American families which are experiencing extraordinary hardship as a result of this ugly, unproductive immigration debate, we urge you to reject this harmful legislation.

It is clear to us that the nation must enforce its laws; all of our organizations are supporters of immigration legislation that includes strong enforcement provisions. But Congress has strengthened our enforcement regime numerous times, including vigorous provisions that have been in place for more than a decade. We have quintupled the resources being spent on immigration enforcement during that decade. If enforcement by itself were effective in addressing the phenomenon of illegal immigration, the problem would have been resolved long ago. We believe the broken immigration system must be addressed at its core, with provisions to address the presence of 12 million undocumented immigrants in our communities and our workforce. Moreover, the Congress must address the fact that there is no meaningful legal path for the workers who currently enter our workforce without documentation.

The vigorous enforcement environment in which we currently find ourselves has caused tremendous hardship for immigrants as well as the Iranian-American community. A recent report by NCLR and the Urban Institute documented extraordinary hardships faced by American children who are separated from their parents in immigration enforcement actions. As many as 12,000 American children live in families who have been torn apart in this way, creating unwarranted new challenges to our nation's schools, childcare centers, and child protection agencies. We hear reports of facial profiling, communities fearful of contacting police to report crimes, and families afraid to send their children to school. Enactment of the Shuler bill will mean more tragedy for our families and communities for the sake of a measure, which is more about symbolism than substance.

We will not resolve our nation's immigration challenge by attempting to hound people out of the country. The hardships we create when we attempt it are profound; not only do they harm our communities, they do great damage to the values that Americans hold dear.

We urge you in the strongest possible terms to reject this harmful piece of legislation.

James S. Irani, Esq., on behalf of the Iranian-American Voice, a not-for profit organization, at 1170 Broadway, Suite 510, New York, New York 10001, Tel: (212) 683-7700

Monday, December 17, 2007

Trying to right immigration wrong ends in family's separation

By Cindy Gonzalez, Omaha World-Herald
Updated 12/17/2007 09:29:10 AM CST

All the talk about illegal immigrants made Joe Wood want to "do the right thing.''
Three years after the freight loader had married Laura Roldan -- who was in the country unlawfully -- the Woods were happily raising two U.S.-born daughters in Omaha. But in this era of heightened immigration enforcement, Joe Wood grew fearful that his wife could be snatched away.

He hired a lawyer and began the process to adjust her immigration status. What in May was supposed to be a family fix-it trip to a U.S. Consulate in Mexico ended up a "nightmare'' in which Laura Wood, 33, was accused of past fraud and barred forever from reentering the United States. Joe Wood, 41, rushed back alone to seek help from his U.S. senators and congressman, lawyer and others. Seven months later, nothing has changed. The current climate on illegal immigration, including a congressional stalemate on revising the system, has made it hard for families to tell what the "right thing'' to do is. So, six months after the nightmare in Mexico, over the Thanksgiving holiday, Joe Wood returned south of the border to visit his wife and girls and plan their next move. Tears welled in the eyes of the gruff, tattooed Wood before his flight departed from Omaha. "It's my fault we're apart,'' he said. "I thought I was doing the right thing. Man, was I an idiot.'' * * *

Though basic immigration laws haven't changed in recent years, applications from foreigners have come under heavier scrutiny since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, said Marilu Cabrera of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Now, federal officials pay extra attention to the tiniest of details, said longtime Omaha immigration attorney Amy Peck. "It's what I call the culture of 'no.''' Add to that the emotional debate over illegal immigration, and it has become harder, experts say, to predict the outcome of cases. "It's very much muddy waters,'' said Alison Brown of Justice for Our Neighbors in Nebraska and Iowa. She now asks clients in situations such as the Woods' to sign extra paperwork acknowledging risks. Ana Barrios, director of south Omaha's Juan Diego Center and its immigration clinic, said anxiety that future laws could be more restrictive has led some families to hurry paperwork they think will anchor loved ones here. Many others delay any move. "There is a lot of fear in taking the next step to legalization,'' Barrios said. "The feeling is that it can backfire.'' In the Wood case, Joe and Laura packed up a car and their two girls in May and traveled to the U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juarez, across the border from El Paso, Texas. They were complying with federal regulations that require undocumented spouses to return to their countries of origin to process relevant immigration paperwork.

Their attorney had advised them of a 1996 law that prevents an immigrant from re-entering for up to 10 years as a penalty for previous unlawful presence in the United States. But the couple also knew that the penalty can be waived. Waivers are available to applicants with clean records who can prove that denial of readmission would cause "extreme hardship'' on the U.S. citizen spouse or child. Laura Wood has no criminal past. In a briefcase she had letters of support, wedding photos and legal documents that laid out the ill effects of a separation. The worst-case scenario, the Woods thought, would be an eight-month wait for Laura in Mexico while the waiver was processed. Their hope was dashed by a consulate officer's assertion that Laura, during the May visit, admitted to using a U.S. identity when she crossed the border in 2001. In an e-mail to the Woods' attorney, Consular Officer Tiffney Johnson stated: "

Although Ms. Wood stated that another person presented the document on her behalf, the department attorneys have previously ruled that when a person acts in a manner that shows complicity by memorizing and giving immigration the name on the false birth certificate, they are ineligible.'' Laura Wood, however, has a different account: She denies using a U.S. birth certificate at the 2001 border crossing, saying she made up a name and was allowed to enter. Her husband, who overheard the exchange at the Consulate, criticized the interviewer's technique. He said she had "badgered'' his wife and "fed'' her words. If Laura Wood had simply slipped past border patrols undetected in 2001, she would not be in the same tough spot. She would have been eligible for the waiver. Instead, the accusation of fraud has barred her for life. * * *
Given a second chance, Joe Wood said recently, he would not seek a legal remedy. He recalled that when he was driving with his wife and daughters through Texas, toward the U.S. Consulate in Mexico, Laura grew apprehensive and began crying. Joe Wood's mood, he said, was different: relief and excitement for the future. "My co-workers told me: You're a U.S. citizen. She's your wife. You have kids who were born in this country. How hard can it be?'' Today, Joe Wood is consumed with anger. He feels betrayed by his country. He has demanded -- but hasn't received -- a taped interview, the alleged birth certificate or anything that backs up the consulate officer's version of the 2001 border crossing. "It's a giant nightmare,'' he said. "It's a freakin' bureaucratic joke.''

The Woods' attorney, Bart Chavez of Omaha, told U.S. Consulate officials in an e-mail that he was upset by the handling of the case, which Chavez described as "perfectly clean.'' He, too, requested but did not receive the U.S. birth certificate that the Consulate said was fraudulently used. After Laura Wood was denied re-entry into the United States, she and the girls went to her Mexican hometown of Ameca and stayed in a house with her parents and extended family. Laura made sure Melissa, now 21 months, always had a photo of Joe Wood with her so she wouldn't forget her dad's face.

Joe Wood missed Vanessa's sixth birthday party. Biologically, she is not his child, but he was raising her as his own. In Mexico, Vanessa was having school enrollment complications. "The girls are illegal there,'' Joe Wood said. In northwest Omaha, he lives in a trailer and earns about $12 an hour at his job unloading trucks at a builder's supply company. The family faces mounting legal and travel fees -- roughly $11,000, Joe Wood said. The Woods decided that their daughters should leave the unpaved streets of Laura's village and return to the United States without their mom. "My heart is very, very sad,'' Laura Wood said in a phone interview. How could a mother let her daughters go? Too few opportunities exist for people without an education, she said. There's no hot water, and the water source is cut off at 5 p.m. A typical retail position Laura Wood might be suited for requires long hours and pays only $70 a week. Positions at the local Coke and sugar factories are mostly filled by men. "No jobs, no clothes, no good schools,'' Laura Wood said. "It's too hard for them here.'' * * * Melissa cried for her mom for nearly two hours after Joe Wood peeled the two apart at Guadalajara International Airport. "You'd have thought I was kidnapping the kids and cutting their lifeline,'' Wood said. He and the two girls flew to the Mexico-U.S. border, but because he didn't have U.S. passports for them, they had to drive the rest of the way to Nebraska, arriving early on Nov. 28. Wood thought he had a baby sitter, but that fell through; so, the next day, he packed the girls in the car for a trip to a government office to seek child care assistance. "Don't get me wrong,'' Joe Wood said. "I love having my children home. But I found out that I'm not as prepared as I thought.'' Wood, who was raised by a grandmother in Boston, wants his daughters to have the family life he never had. His own past, he said, was rough. He served 18 months in prison in 1994 and 1995 for attempted sexual assault, an offense he attributes to a drug addiction he has since kicked. Laura knows of his past, Joe said, and trusts him. He vowed to "exhaust every possible resource'' to bring back his wife.

Asked whether that could mean illegal passage, Wood said his wife is too afraid to cross unlawfully. The office of U.S. Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., said the staff is checking into the case. A last resort, Wood said, is moving to Mexico. His sons, 17 and 18, would understand, but he doesn't want to be that far from his 10-year-old daughter from another relationship. "I can't believe I'm in that position,'' Wood said. "Does my country really want me to have to choose between families?''