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After the Amnesty: 20 years later

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The joy of security and work

When they crossed the US border with Mexico in the early 1970s, Alfonso Castañeda was a house painter; his wife, Marta, was a nurse. Almost three decades later, they still work in the same professions.

"I thought I could do something more," says Mrs. Castañeda who never managed to validate her degree and works as a nurse assistant at a private hospital. Mr. Castañeda, a stocky man with long sideburns, says he dreamed of saving enough to go back to Mexico, but never did.

The '86 amnesty did not give the Castañedas wealth or more education. But the passing of the bill brought them protection in the form of a disability check, workers' compensation, and the means to build toward a secure retirement. Their citizenship, and subsequent financial stability, helped them support their children Gerardo, a research assistant at a law firm, and Elsa, a computer science graduate from the University of Arizona who now works for her alma mater.

The couple also find small rewards in their own work routines.

"The youngest ones are 75," Marta says with a laugh, describing the elderly patients she helps. "It's beautiful when they recover and they get to go back to their families."

Alfonso started his own small painting business, but still climbs a ladder and takes out his brush every day. Despite the smell of paint, the rain and sun, he feels satisfied because at the end "you see the results."

Mary Vega / Providence, R.I.

On that day, 'My soul came back to my body'

From breaking news to weather updates, Mary Vega listens closely and retells the story to thousands of Spanish-speakers in Rhode Island. She provides instantaneous English-Spanish dubbing for the nightly news at local ABC television affiliate WLNE.

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