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Immigration Reform Plan Draws Praise, Concerns

Eight U.S. senators unveiled a plan Monday for an overhaul of the country’s immigration system. Reaction in Texas ranged from praise to concerns over the plan’s border-security component.

Immigration protest at Texas Capitol. February 22nd, 2011

An immigration reform plan unveiled Monday by a bipartisan group of U.S. senators was greeted with mixed reviews by Texas lawmakers and stakeholders, with some groups hailing the effort as a positive leap forward and others chiding the plan’s emphasis on border security.

The plan includes a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 to 12 million people in the country illegally, but contains a strong border-security component that includes more unmanned aerial drones to help secure the border, additional U.S. Border Patrol personnel and completion of an entry-exit monitoring system to ensure people here on temporary visas leave the country as required.

Under the proposal, undocumented immigrants would be allowed to obtain residency status only after they register with the federal government, pass background checks, learn English and prove they are employed. They won’t be eligible to obtain status, however, until immigrants currently waiting for “green cards” receive theirs. Easier requirements will be unveiled for agriculture workers and undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children. 

The plan also calls for the creation of an advisory commission whose members will include border-state governors and attorneys general and community leaders who live and work on the Southwest border.

U.S. Rep. Rubén Hinojosa, D-Edinburg, the chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, released a statement calling the effort a move in the right direction after the caucus for years has called for a solution to the country’s broken immigration system.

“The Senate's blueprint is a positive step toward this important goal and we look forward to reviewing the details with the Senate,” Hinojosa said. “Their 'tough, but fair' approach provides a good foundation for the legislation that is needed. What is most encouraging about their plan is the earned pathway to citizenship, which is a core tenet of our nine principles of immigration reform.”

The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund, which counts multiple Texans as board members, applauded the effort and tasked senators to back up the plan with actual legislation.

“We call on U.S. Senators to introduce legislation that will make a pathway to citizenship a reality by ensuring that the legal process for entry into the country is efficient and timely and that the naturalization process remains accessible and affordable to eligible immigrants,” the group said. “We also ask that new Americans are provided with the support needed to fully integrate into the civic fabric of our society.”

The El Paso-based Border Network for Human Rights, however, pushed back against the idea that the border is not secure.

“The Border Network recognizes this as a first and very important step to address the core issue of immigration reform, which is providing a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented people living and working in the U.S.,” Fernando Garcia, the organization’s executive director, said in a statement. “But we cannot ignore the problems within these principles. We are deeply concerned and disappointed that the Senators would connect the much-needed legalization program to new border enforcement triggers and further militarization of our southern border.”

U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, who has criticized previous immigration proposals as "backdoor amnesty," condemned the new plan as another misguided effort that promotes lawlessness.

"No one should be surprised that individuals who have supported amnesty in the past still support amnesty. When you legalize those who are in the country illegally, it costs taxpayers millions of dollars, costs American workers thousands of jobs and encourages more illegal immigration," he said in a statement. "By granting amnesty, the Senate proposal actually compounds the problem by encouraging more illegal immigration.” 

State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, the chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, said he hoped the national debate would not segue into a state battle where ill-advised immigration proposals return to the Capitol.

“I have said before, immigration holds a special place in the fabric of our nation and state,” he wrote in MALC’s weekly newsletter. “The members of MALC have dealt with anti-immigrant debates and legislation in every legislative session over the past decade. These debates are an affront not only to our constituents whom we represent, but also to our own families and friends. We look forward to new progress on immigration reform.”

The Washington Office of Latin America, a human-rights outfit that works on U.S. policy toward Latin America, said border-security efforts must be based on facts.

The group says the number of migrants apprehended by the U.S. Border Patrol at the southern border has dropped by 61 percent since 2005.

“Migration has dropped to levels not seen since the Nixon administration. Any additional resources to the Border Patrol will result in diminishing returns,” said Adam Isacson of the group’s border security project.

A report released this month by the Migration Policy Institute shows that spending on border enforcement eclipses the total funding for FBI, the Secret Service, the U.S. Marshal's Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Firearms and Explosives combined.

The so-called Senate Gang of 8 includes Republicans John McCain and Jeff Flake of Arizona, Marco Rubio of Florida and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina; and Democrats Dick Durbin of Illinois, Robert Menendez of New Jersey, Chuck Schumer of New York and Michael Bennet of Colorado.

Their plan comes a day before President Obama is scheduled to deliver to a crowd in Las Vegas his first in a series of public comments on immigration and his push for national reform. The president has said passing comprehensive immigration reform is a priority in his second term.

That comes despite his administration’s record levels of deportations since he took office. In 2012, 410,000 undocumented immigrants were removed from the country, an increase of 13,000 from the previous year.

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