SANTA ANA, Calif. -- One in four of the 220,000 residents of the bustling city of Santa Ana is an illegal alien who lives in fear of arrest and deportation to Mexico.
Americans in affluent, politically conservative Orange County, as well as elsewhere in the United States, also are afraid. They fear a silent and seemingly unstoppable invasion of an estimated 6 million illegal immigrants and refugees into this country during the past five years.
Such fears are heightened at a time when about 10 million Americans are unemployed and when government at all levels finds it increasingly difficult to fund schools and social services.
The nation cannot control its borders and Congress has been unable to agree on how to revamp outmoded immigration policies.
The House still has not approved the Simpson-Mazzoli bill, passed last year by the Senate. The measure would set new limits on legal immigration, crack down on employers who knowingly hire illegal aliens and grant amnesty to millions already here.
'It's bad legislation,' said Jose Vargas, 47, who heads the Hispanic Affairs Division of the Santa Ana Police Department. 'It makes it a crime to be hungry. All the laws in the world won't stop a hungry man from trying to find work.'
The award-winning police officer, a former field laborer and garbage collector who was deported to his native Mexico a dozen times before finally marrying to achieve U.S. citizenship, speaks from personal experience.
That marriage failed but the American dream came true for the man who has done some hard traveling since an impoverished boyhood in an adobe hut in Jalisco, Mexico.
'I was an illegal alien,' Vargas said. 'I was deported a dozen times in the 1950s. I was a guest in various jails. I didn't consider myself a criminal. I had to survive.'
Vargas opposes legislation that would require those qualified to work in the United States to carry counterfeit-proof identification cards.
'it would be discriminatory because the authorities would check only on people who appear to be foreign born,' he said. 'But there should be some control at the border with the help of the Mexican government.'
Vargas believes that all illegal aliens in the United States 'should be allowed to remain with full legal rights. In exchange, the government should require them to prepare for U.S. citizenship.'
Such broad amnesty is essential, he said, because it would be inhumane -- and impossible -- to deport the uncounted millions of undocumented aliens, many of whom have been in this country for years.
Vargas and his boss, Santa Ana Police Chief Raymond C. Davis, are critics of the raids staged by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service to round up illegal aliens.
Raids to arrest and deport foreign nationals who are undocumented do nothing to stem the flow of illegal immigration from Mexico, Vargas contends, and are a violation of human rights.
'The Border Patrol has picked parents up on the streets and deported them while children were left at home alone,' he said. 'Cars owned by deportees have been left abandoned on the streets. It disturbs the whole city. People are afraid to go out of their homes to shop. When the Border Patrol comes to town, business turns bad. The raids are not illegal but they are unethical. Of the ones they deport, 90 percent come right back.'
Vargas said the raids have created a breakdown in communication between the Hispanic community and local police because undocumented aliens are so afraid of the authorities they do not report crimes.
The immigration service's biggest caper in recent years was Operation Jobs in April, 1982, a series of raids on 560 work sites around the nation in a single week, to detain and deport illegal aliens holding jobs that might otherwise go to unemployed Americans.
The INS said the arrest of 5,440 suspects was an 'unqualified success' but surveys taken later disclosed that most of the jobs opened up by the raids had been filled by other other non-citizens.
'Immigration is a pseudo problem more than a real one,' insisted the Rev. Allan Figuerroa Deck, director of the Roman Catholic mission to Orange County Hispanics.
'By and large, when one measures all the benefits against the liabilities, immigration to the United States is a positive reality,' said the Jesuit priest. 'Projections demonstrate an ongoing need for immigration to this country but a large segment of the American public is paralyzed by fear grounded in racism.'
Deck opposes the Simpson-Mazzoli bill on grounds that 'the amnesty provision would not be sufficiently generous.'
'There have been cE:les of scapegoating of recently-arrived immigrants,' said Deck, whose mother was Mexican. 'The Irish and Italians were scapegoated. Now it's the Mexicans and Southeast Asians.'
Asked if he advocated completely open borders, the priest replied, 'The fact is that we have an open border now and it works. Those who suffer most are those who are immigrating. My concern is for the dignity of all immigrant people. Human rights should be respected. Our immigration laws are unenforceable. They just don't work.'
Deck warned that 'increased enforcement is not going to work and will create greater hardship for people. But they will continue to come as long as they need work.'
Deck scoffs at the contention that illegal aliens do not pay taxes and are a drain on welfare services. He said studies have shown they pay more in taxes than they get in tax-supported social services.
Although most illegal aliens have federal and state income taxes withheld from their wages, as well as Social Security taxes, they rarely apply for unemployment compensation, welfare or food stamps because they fear deportation.
'The greatest reason for development of the Sun Belt was its easy access to cheap non-union labor,' Deck said. 'If all the undocumented workers were to disappear tomorrow, Orange County would come to a halt. Hotels and restaurants would close. Certainly the car washes would. It would hit the electronics industry. There would be no domestic workers.
'California's biggest industry is agriculture and undocumented workers are the foundation of it. But the vast majority of undocumented workers live in urban centers like Santa Ana and work in factories and non-agricultural jobs.'
Rusty Kennedy, executive director of the county's Human Relations Commission, said, 'Orange County is a perfect example of a community that thrives because of undocumented workers.'
Kennedy said the INS raids are 'public relations exercises' aimed at securing more federal funding for enforcement. He said illegal aliens 'are the constant targets of crime' and often are exploited by bosses who pay less than the minimum wage.
Kennedy said refugees from Indochina 'were able to use a well-established network of social services. The Mexicans work just as hard but they are not welcomed. The difference between the groups is that one is hunted and the other is not. The Mexicans live in fear.'
Kennedy said his commission opposes the Simpson-Mazzoli bill because 'the impact of the employer sanctions could be discriminatory' by providing an excuse not to hire Hispanics.
'We also don't like the amnesty provision, which is minimal,' Kennedy said. 'And a national identity card in a free society is offensive.'
Kennedy said he hopes immigration legislation will come up again in a different form 'but these questions should not be decided in an election year.'
They probably will not be, if House Speaker Thomas P. O'Neil has anything to do with it. The Massachusetts Democrat has said he would not bring up immigration-reform legislation this year because it lacked support and was opposed by Hispanic members of Congress. The speaker also indicated he feared President Reagan might veto the legislation in an effort to win Hispanic votes next year.
As for the president, at a recent news conference he pledged to work for immigration reform because 'This country has lost control of its borders, and no country can sustain that kind of position.'
Hispanics comprise by far the largest segment of Santa Ana's population. An estimated one-third of the population does not speak English.
Still, Hispanics have not achieved a proportionate influence in local government. The city has an all-white school board, although 80 percent of the school children are Hispanic. A broad amnesty provision in immigration-reform legislation could turn a lot of Hispanics into eligible voters and change all that.
Carmen Hernandez, a Cuban who has applied for U.S citizenship and has a good job in a bank, said, 'There are a lot of jobs the undocumented workers do that others won't take but the money they send back to Mexico doesn't help the city.'
'The U.S. should not just make them all legal,' said Mrs. Hernandez.
Charly Pujol, who works behind the counter at Jennie's Cafe, took a more liberal view.
'The Mexicans are not a problem,' said Ms. Pujol. 'I worked with them when I was a director of catering for 14 years in a hotel. They're the only people who do hotel work well. They raid the hotels and pick them up but they're not taking jobs away from anyone else. I look at it like foreign aid, a way to help people. They live in such poverty.'
The Rev. Herbert H. Weld, a semi-retired Episcopal priest who is the parish visitor at the Church of the Messiah, said, 'Immigration is a big problem. You go down to the welfare office and you see nothing but foreigners there. People resent that. People know they come in here and get on welfare and run up our budget. We should have a quota system. I admire the Asians and Cubans. A lot of them own homes, cars and businesses. The ones from Cuba are better educated.'
As for the undocumented Mexicans, Weld said, 'I feel sorry for them. I know their poverty but we can't feed the world.'
At the same church, Mary Hassell is in charge of the Episcpal Service Alliance which aids the poor, including some illegal aliens from Mexico.
'We see a lot of Hispanics,' said Mrs. Hassell. 'Maybe 50 to 75 percent. We don't ask if they're legal or not. We see a lot of people who fall through the cracks because they're afraid they will be deported if they apply for government services.
'Most of the ones we see here are going back and forth across the border. A man came in the other day who was trying to get back to his family in Mexico. We just told him to turn himself in to immigration and they would send him back. They did. Some just come into this country to visit. They have family in both countries. When they come through our door they're all the same to us. We're here to help them all.'
Mrs. Hassell does not worry about illegal aliens taking jobs from Americans.
'I have kids looking for work and I don't feel they're taking jobs from them,' she said.
Mrs. Jeane Doane, a retired teacher, said, 'It's very unfair to go into the fields and pick them up indiscriminantly. A child comes home from school and his mother and fasther aren't there. They've been deported.'
Al Alvarez, an immigrant who holds the coveted green card that will lead to U.S. citizenship, is a tax consultant. He does not ask if his Hispanic clients are undocumented but he knows many who pay income taxes.
'The Simpson-Mazzoli bill is more positive than negative,' Alvarez said. 'All laws have a good and bad side. Good medicine can have some bad side effects.'
At Don Orlijan's pawn shop, many of the customers are undocumented Mexicans.
'The INS harrasses them,' Orlijan said. 'As long as they're working they should be left alone. Americans won't do field work anyway.
'The majority of the illegal ones don't pawn things because they can't show any identification. But they buy items and put them on layaway.'
Maj. Ed Henderson of the Salvation Army runs a treatment center for alcoholics. Almost none of his clients are undocumented aliens.
Henderson said rounding up Mexicans and replacing them with Americans in menial jobs has proven to be unsuccessful.
'The Americans lasted a few days or a few hours,' he said.
Deacon Fred Bailey atSt. Joseph's Catholic Church works closely with undocumented aliens.
'Their reasons for coming to this country can't be faulted,' said Bailey, who aspires to be a parish priest. 'They come to feed their families. On the other hand, we have people in this country who need jobs. We have to have balance and we need to act with justice.
'St. Joseph's used to be an all-Anglo parish. Now we're 75 percent Hispanic. Language and cultural differences create fear.'
Bailey said some affluent Anglos in the neighboring French Park community object to the church providing sandwiches and coffee for the indigent.
'They complained that we were bringing bums into the neighborhood.' he said. 'Orange County is conservative and affluent - people who believe you can make it if you try. But there are also a lot of poor people in Santa Ana.'
Daryl Reed, one of the relatively few blacks in Santa Ana, is not desperately poor but he is not really making it either. The former Marine is a minimum-wage truck loader who would like to be a professional boxer. At 24, he knows he has waited too long.
'Times are hard because you're in competition with the illegals,' said Reed as he let off some steam on a heavy bag at the Santa Ana Boxing Club.
Would he work in the fields?
'No way,' Reed said. 'It's hard work and low pay. That's something you only do if you have to.'
Reed, whose mother raised seven children in a St. Louis ghetto, said he understands why the Mexicans stream across the border.
'When it comes to surviving, it's like war,' he said. 'Anything goes.'
Frank Ramirez, who is part owner of the property the boxing club is on, has seen a lot of young undocumented youngsters try to fight their way to a share of the American dream.
'If you want to box nobody asks you if you're a U.S. citizen,' he said.
Ramirez is a U.S. citizen and a businessman whose grandfather immigrated to the United States in 1916.
'I'm an oddity,' Ramirez said cheerfully. 'I'm a Mexican Republican.'
Dr. Edward Hunter, pastor of the all-Anglo First United Methodist Church downtown, said, 'We had one Hispanic member but he moved away.'
Hunter acknowledged some resentment against illegal aliens on the part of his church members.
'There's a feeling that the Hispanics are taking away jobs,' he said. 'These are hard times. We see people living in their cars. But our people are willing to help. One feeling is resentment. The other is caring.'
Hunter, a supporter of the Simpson-Mazzoli bill, said his church sponsors an all-Hispanic boy scout troop.
'Some of the parents are reluctant to let their sons get involved because they're here illegally. They feel threatened.'
Hunter's church permits an Hispanic pentecostal group to use its building for Sunday services.
'Our relationship with the Hispanics is very cordial,' he said.
At his neat office in the police station, Officer Vargas recalled the days when he was on the wrong side of immigration law he saw as unjust.
'Mexican kids are taught in school that the United States stole the Southwest from Mexico,' he said. 'There is no stigma to being deported. The attitude is that it's our land and we're just going back to it.'
Vargas worries about the future.
'Is there going to be another civil war over indocumentados? History will judge if the immigration raids were right or wrong. A future president of the United States might be named Gonzalez. We Mexicans are very prolific. Conditions are getting so bad in Mexico everybody will want to leave. I already have about 50 undocumented relatives in the United States.'
Vargas attended high school and a community college while working at menial jobs.
'The day I got my U.S. citizenship I cried like a baby,' he said. 'I knew they could never deport me again.'
Sitting under a plaque that proclaimed that he had been the police officer of the year, Vargas said, 'I haven't done bad for a wetback.'