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Defining Immigration Reform

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PHOTO: LULAC national immigration chair Lydia Guzman says success for the reform bill by the "Gang of Eight" senators will depend on how they define terms like "going to the end of the line" regarding a pathway to citizenship. CREDIT: Facebook
PHOTO: LULAC national immigration chair Lydia Guzman says success for the reform bill by the "Gang of Eight" senators will depend on how they define terms like "going to the end of the line" regarding a pathway to citizenship. CREDIT: Facebook
March 18, 2013

PHOENIX, Ariz. - The so-called "Gang of Eight" senators, including Arizona's John McCain and Jeff Flake, are planning to unveil a bipartisan immigration reform bill in the next few weeks. However, one national activist said, the bill's success will depend on how various terms crucial to the immigration debate are defined. One such term is "back of the line," as in requiring undocumented residents seeking a path to citizenship to pay a fine and go to the back of the line.

Lydia Guzman, national immigration chair for the League of United Latin American Citizens, says there is no "back of the line" - because the "line" has not existed since 1996.

"We have no program right now, no process where people can say 'I want to apply to become legal here,'" she said. "Somebody could petition for you, but that's going to take 15 or 20 years or so. And that's like a legal permanent resident can petition for a family member or a citizen. And even then, there's no guarantees."

There is currently a waiting list of more than 4 million family members of citizens and legal residents hoping to gain legal status in the U.S.

Pathway-to-citizenship proposals also frequently include payment of fines and back taxes by undocumented residents as qualifications for legalization. Guzman said most immigrants are okay with paying a reasonable fine, but not thousands of dollars, which would rule out a lot of working families.

"We have a lot of folks who are struggling," she explained. "Entire families are going to need to apply, not just one person. So, making a fine in the thousands of dollars is probably going to keep folks still in the shadows. You know, you have to have something that's attainable, that's reachable."

Another often-heard phrase in the immigration debate is "secure the border first." Guzman said Arizona's border is as secure as it has ever been, both in terms of the numbers crossing and the numbers of Border Patrol agents.

"Border crossings have reduced to the levels of (the) 1970s," she said. "People aren't crossing the border for several reasons: because the border's secure; so much police presence; and at the same time, there's no jobs."

Border security advocates point to a 14-mile stretch of double-fencing near San Diego as their definition of a secure border. But Guzman says securing the nearly 2,000-mile border with Mexico would be cost-prohibitive, with one study estimating $28 billion dollars a year.


Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ