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Immigrants Supporting Immigrants on Reform

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

When President Bush talks about immigration tonight, most people will think about immigrants from Latin America. But in Northern New York, members of the growing Bosnian community say they share many of the same concerns as Mexicans and other Hispanic Americans.

North Country Public Radio's Brian Mann has the story.

BRIAN MANN reporting:

When Americans talk about immigration, they usually mean Hispanic immigration. But here in Northern New York, the most visible group of foreign-born workers come from Bosnia in Eastern Europe. Dozens of families have settled in the small villages of the Adirondack Mountains, opening restaurants and businesses.

(Soundbite of sewing machine)

MANN: Sylvia's is a small tailor shop in Saranac Lake. Owner Sylvia Sycumseven(ph) is taking orders for alterations. Sylvia is a small woman, middle-aged with bone thin hands. She's different from a lot of immigrants in that she came to the U.S. as a refugee, fleeing the war that ripped Bosnia apart in the early 90s. She settled here as part of a fast growing network of Bosnian families. Sylvia is a U.S. citizen now.

This afternoon her shop is busy with customers, but also with Bosnian friends and relatives who drop by to gossip and trade news. For these women, the immigration debate is personal.

Ms. SYLVIA SYCUMSEVEN (Bosnian immigrant): I'm working here 18 hours and working very hard if I pay tax to government. And I'm really good and I will give my life for this country. If I want to send tomorrow my son to the army, you know, why have you kicked me out? Why you don't help me?

MANN: Yasmina Sycumseven(ph), Sylvia's sister is also a U.S. citizen now, but says many Bosnian families share the fears as the Hispanic protesters they see on television.

Ms. YASMINA SYCUMSEVEN: Like how I have my brother and he's like 12 years in America and he pay the taxes, he shouldn't be, he shouldn't go back.

MANN: Critics often focus on the fact that undocumented workers and the people who hire them are breaking the law. Sylvia Sycumseven sees a distinction between illegal immigration and other crimes.

Ms. S. SYCUMSEVEN: If we want somebody kick out, that's going to be somebody who did something bad for this country. Like if you have criminal and you kill somebody or if you're using drugs, you have to be back to your own country.

MANN: The Sycumsevens support the idea of a guest worker program. They say they've proved themselves by putting in long hours, opening businesses and creating jobs.

Ms. Y. SYCUMSEVEN: And it's like many people from Saranac Lake, they know who I am and they know how I work. I mean they can see through us.

Ms. S. SYCUMSEVEN: I'm proud to be U.S.A. citizen. We love this country. We love this country, honestly, and my children love here. This is second home.

MANN: One thing is different here. Immigration is still far less common. Across New York State, one in five people are foreign born. But in these rural villages, immigrants like the Sycumsevens make up only 4% of the population.

For NPR News, I'm Brian Mann in Saranac Lake, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.