In the mornings, as Julio drives Emilia to her housekeeping job in an affluent neighborhood in Bethesda, they usually chat about buying baby clothes and furniture for their soon-to-be born first child.
But sometimes their thoughts turn to the frightening possibility that Emilia, who is from Peru and in this country illegally, could be deported.
"Julio asks me what he would do without me," said Emilia, 38, who is eight months pregnant. "He asks me how he would care for our child if he were here alone."
Unlike Emilia, the 43-year-old Julio, an illegal immigrant from Colombia, qualifies for amnesty under the immigration law passed by Congress last year, and he cannot be deported. He did not want the couple's last name used.
The immigration law says that only those illegal immigrants who have lived in this country before Jan. 1, 1982, are eligible for the one-year amnesty program, and many illegal aliens such as Emilia who arrived after the cutoff date do not qualify.
The disquieting uncertainty that surrounds Emilia's future is typical of the predicament facing thousands of illegal immigrant families, in which some members qualify for amnesty but others do not, depending on when they entered the United States.
Ultimately, Emilia's fate and that of others like her will rest on the outcome of an intense, ongoing political debate about what the government should do with the ineligible family members of amnesty recipients.
On one side of the "family unity" issue are immigrant advocacy groups, immigration lawyers and some members of Congress, who believe the ineligible family members should receive special permission to live and work in this country, and who argue that the lack of a liberal family-unity policy unintentionally is undermining the amnesty program.
On the other side of the debate are other members of Congress, such as Sen. Alan K. Simpson (R-Wyo.), one of the key sponsors of the new immigration law, who say it would be unfair to give those illegal family members permission to remain here when more than 2 million foreign-born family members of legal U.S. residents have been waiting years for permission to immigrate here.
Proponents of this view say that an amnesty applicant can petition for a relative upon becoming a permanent resident, about two years after applying for amnesty.
Caught between those two points of view is the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which is expected to announce soon an official policy on how it will deal with the family members of amnesty applicants.
"This is a real loser of an issue for the INS if they continue to be intransigent," said Charles Kamasaki, a policy analyst for the National Council of La Raza, an immigrant rights organization. "Who in their right minds would support splitting up families?"
In a slight liberalization of regulations, INS Commissioner Alan C. Nelson announced several weeks ago that the agency would not deport minor children who do not qualify for amnesty if both parents qualify.
The INS, however, is unlikely to extend that same guarantee to ineligible spouses of immigrants who qualify for amnesty or to ineligible children if one spouse does not qualify, INS officials said.
Instead, the policy on "family fairness," which is expected to be announced today when Nelson addresses a House subcommittee, is expected to say that the agency will deal with ineligible spouses and children case by case and, if there is a "compelling, humanitarian reason," will not deport them, INS officials said.
Nelson has said previously that the INS is hamstrung by language in a report by the Senate Judiciary Committee on the new immigration law. The report says, "It is the intent of the committee that family members of legalized aliens will obtain no special petitioning rights by virtue of this legislation. They will be required to wait in line in the same manner as immediate family members of other new resident aliens."
Demetrios Papademetriou is a policy research consultant for the U.S. Catholic Conference, which so far has filed amnesty applications on behalf of 60,000 illegal immigrants.
"There will be substantial numbers of people for whom the threat of separation will be very real," Papademetriou said.
Some members of Congress want to erase that threat. There are bills pending in the House and Senate to grant a special status and permission to work to the close relatives of amnesty recipients.
"Every case to me is humanitarian in order to keep the family together," said Sen. John H. Chafee (R-R.I.), who recently introduced an amendment to the State Department Authorization Bill.
The amendment, which was tabled after debate, would have allowed family members of amnesty recipients to live and work here.
Chafee and other supporters of this special treatment for family members argue that some immigrants are not applying for amnesty because they fear ineligible family members will be deported, even though the INS cannot use the information in an amnesty applicant's application to deport an ineligible family member.
To date about 800,000 people have applied for amnesty and 2 million are expected to apply before the program ends in May.
Several cases across the country, one them in the Washington area, in which the INS raided businesses and detained family members of illegal immigrants who have applied for amnesty, are also spawning this fear of reprisals.
In Arlington recently, the INS detained about a dozen illegal aliens at a Quality Inn and fined the employer under the employer sanctions part of the immigration law.
One of those detained was a woman whose husband also worked at the hotel and qualified for amnesty. The INS has begun deportation proceedings against the woman, said her lawyer, Candace Kattar.
A survey done for the INS in June by a Los Angeles public relations firm confirms the notion that some illegal immigrants have not applied for amnesty because they fear for their relatives, said Hector J. Orci, president of La Agencia de Orci y Asociados, which did the survey.
Orci said the survey of 700 illegal immigrants nationwide showed that about half of them had not yet applied for amnesty.
Of those who had not applied, about 35 percent said "they were afraid that if their family members did not qualify, they would be deported," Orci said.
Three other common reasons given for not applying were that the immigrant was still saving money to pay for the application fee; was not sure how to go about applying, or didn't think he or she was eligible for the program, Orci said.
As a result of the survey, the public relations firm has changed its strategy for reaching illegal aliens and will do a follow-up survey in November, he said.
Meanwhile, Emilia, who lives in a one-bedroom apartment in Langley Park, said that after the new immigration law took effect her husband Julio was afraid to file for amnesty.
She said he became very anxious when his brother-in-law said he would not give Julio a notarized letter saying Julio had lived and worked in his home-based upholstery business.
To qualify for amnesty, immigrants must provide the INS with bank records, utility and rent receipts and other documentation to prove they have lived in this country before Jan. 1, 1982.
Finally, with the help of a social service agency in Takoma Park that helps immigrants file for amnesty, Julio obtained the letter he needed and applied for amnesty.
Several weeks ago, he received word that his application had been approved and he is now a temporary resident, the first step toward permanent residence and eventually citizenship.
The couple now looks to the day when Julio, who delivers pizzas in Bethesda, will become a permanent resident and can legally petition for Emilia.
But meanwhile the fear lingers. Sometimes, Emilia said, "I still worry about what will happen to me."