Community leaders and advocates in the El Paso border region said Monday that
they welcome the news that U.S. lawmakers are working to adopt new immigration
legislation aimed at legalizing the status of more than 11 million
undocumented immigrants living in this country.
A group of U.S. senators on Monday announced their general framework for bipartisan immigration legislation. President Barack Obama plans to unveil his own proposal today in Nevada.
An estimated 11.5 million undocumented immigrants lived in the United States in 2011, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security reported last year, at least half of them in California and Texas.
The Center for Border Farm Workers in El Paso estimates that up to 30 percent of the
5,000 to 14,000 migrant workers in West Texas and Southern New Mexico are undocumented. The higher number is the most usually hired during peak harvest seasons.
U.S. Rep. Robert "Beto" O'Rourke, D-El Paso, said, "I am encouraged that it looks like Congress is finally going to address this issue. It's a good start. I am happy to see that the proposal includes a path to citizenship for 11 million people who are here in an undocumented status. I am also glad to see a fast-track plan for the Dreamers," referring to youths who were brought to the United States by undocumented parents and remain in an immigration limbo.
O'Rourke also said he believes he can use his role on the Homeland Security Committee to help propel sound immigration legislation.
He and Ruben Garcia, executive director of the Annunciation House, which assists at-risk migrants, said they challenge the notion that immigration reform must be conditioned on first assuring that the border is secure.
"I am surprised at the extent that 'securing the border' is still such a big part of the conversation, and that reform is being conditioned on making the border safe," Garcia said. "These legislators need to look at what the U.S. has done in relation to enforcement over the past 10 years. However, I am glad to see that the momentum for immigration reform is building, and I'm very happy that President Obama will speak about this (today)."
In recent years, crime statistics compiled each year by the FBI indicate that overall crime is down in U.S. cities along the border with Mexico. El Paso continues to be ranked among the safest cities for its size in the United States, despite its proximity to Juarez, Chihuahua, which experienced extraordinary levels of violence during the drug cartel wars of 2008-2012.
Eight Republican and Democrat U.S. senators released a copy of their general framework for immigration reform that includes these goals:
-- Creating a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, contingent upon securing the border and better tracking of people who are here on visas.
-- Reforming the legal immigration system, including awarding green cards to immigrants who obtain advanced degrees in science, math, technology or engineering from a U.S. university.
-- Creating an effective employment verification system to ensure that employers do not hire undocumented immigrants.
-- Allowing more low-skill workers into the country, and allowing employers to hire immigrants if they can demonstrate they were unable to
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