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The Way North: Day 1 - Immigration Issues

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At migrant shelters in Tijuana, and in boardinghouses just south of Arizona and Texas, I have met dozens of Mexican and Central American immigrants over the past three years who told me, often in English, that they were trying to get back to the lives and the families they had built in Los Angeles and Seattle; Durham, N.C.; or Des Moines.

Some had been deported after living more than a decade in the United States. Others had left on their own, usually to care for an ailing relative. But questions kept filling my mind as they described their children and the routines of work, church and sports in the United States. Are these immigrants Americans?

And how - after decades of record-high immigration - has that definition, and the country, been changed?

It's a difficult question. When Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., at a recent graduation ceremony in Miami, said Congress should legalize the country's 11 million immigrants without legal status because "these people are already Americans," his words were chewed over for days in a country that is still conflicted about immigration and whether newcomers are integrating into American life.

This project, The Way North, aims to explore these thorny issues, place by place, mile by mile in the regions along Interstate 35, from Laredo, Tex., to Duluth, Minn. My name is Damien Cave, and I am the Mexico City correspondent for The New York Times and a former Miami bureau chief married to a daughter of Cuban immigrants. Together with Todd Heisler, a Times photographer and the grandson of immigrants who settled in Chicago, we will be driving the length of I-35 with the goal of documenting how immigrants and established residents in a variety of places are getting along (or not); how they are intertwining or distancing themselves from one another in schools and churches, at restaurants and police stations; how they are experiencing the milestones of life - births, baptisms, birthdays, graduations, marriages and funerals.    

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