By Wally Kennedy
Local Hispanics say they are hopeful about the immigration reform bill the U.S. Senate passed on Thursday, but they also say they are realistic.
They’re hopeful because the bill was a product of bipartisan collaboration that involved four Democrats and four Republicans, the so-called Gang of 8. They’re realistic because they believe the legislation will not continue to receive such bipartisan support in the Republican-controlled U.S. House.
“They are both hopeful and anxious,” said Diana Batista, with the Hispanic Community of Springfield. “They are hopeful something will be solved in their favor, but exactly what they don’t know. That is the anxiety part.
“They are hopeful because this is a bipartisan effort. Before, it was just by the Democrats. Now that it is bipartisan, that gives them more hope.”
Batista said Hispanics “are very carefully watching” the legislation, which could be the most sweeping overhaul of America’s immigration system since the 1980s. It would give legal status to millions of people now in the country illegally, while expanding legal immigration and increasing border security.
The legislation passed the Senate on a bipartisan vote of 68-32. The bill was strongly supported by groups ranging from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to the Missouri Farm Bureau.
Liz Pavon, of Joplin, who says she’s “100 percent Mexican,” said giving legal status to those who are in the country illegally “would create a wonderful opportunity for them. It’s been many years since the last amnesty happened. It would be good for the economy.”
Pavon said she is not opposed to increasing border security, which the legislation also emphasizes to placate Republicans who think it should be the top priority.
“It’s not just Mexicans coming across the border,” she said. “I think it is a good thing they are doing. It’s also stopping other illegal things that are coming through.
“The last time they voted on something like this, they were short by four votes. Hopefully, I’m thinking they will get more to make it possible for it to happen. In the long run, Republicans are the ones who will pass it. If they do, they will get more votes in the next November elections.”
Also supporting stronger border security, including the border to the north, is Adolfo Castillo, a Joplin resident who is involved in local Hispanic issues.
“I do agree that border security should be the foremost thing to do,” he said. “But we also need to help process people who can be here legally, and continue to work and be part of the system. No amnesty — just for them to be here legally.”
Castillo said the gridlock in Washington, D.C., “will prevent it from happening, especially when it moves on to the House. It will move much slower than it did in the Senate. Once it goes to the House, it will go back to the Senate. The bill will be going back and forth a lot.”
Castillo said the bill would give an illegal immigrant “up to 13 years before anything can be done to a path to citizenship. It will take it 30 years now.”
Castillo said Republicans in the House will hurt themselves “if they do not approach the Hispanic community and sell their vision about why they are doing this. They’re going to have to work for my vote.”
Conservative groups, such at the tea party movement, view the bill as unpatriotic.
Ed Hayes, former director of the Minutemen in Kansas and Missouri, now a member of a tea party group in Overland Park, Kan., said: “I think it’s unpatriotic. What’s your citizenship worth? It’s worth a hell of a lot. They are just giving it to people who got into this country illegally.
“And, instead of 11 million, it’s more like 40 million. Once they get their citizenship, they will bring their whole family here. What’s that going to do to your citizenship?”
At its core, the legislation in the Senate includes numerous steps to prevent future illegal immigration, while at the same time offering a chance at citizenship to the estimated 11 million immigrants now living in the country unlawfully.
It provides for 20,000 new Border Patrol agents, requires the completion of 700 miles of fencing and requires that an array of high-tech devices be deployed to secure the border with Mexico.
Businesses would be required to check on the legal status of prospective employees. Other provisions would expand the number of visas for highly skilled workers relied upon by the technology industry. A separate program would be established for less-skilled workers, and farm workers would be admitted under a temporary program.
Many House conservatives oppose the pathway to citizenship at the center of the Senate bill. And many prefer a piecemeal approach rather than a sweeping bill like the one in the Senate.
Among those voting against the bill was Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo. In a statement released Thursday, Blunt said: “Congress has one shot to address this problem the right way today, and we had better get it right. Any legislation that reaches the president’s desk must address border security first and foremost. Yet, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the underlying Senate bill would only cut illegal immigration by 25 percent. That’s just not good enough.”
Blunt said he could not vote for the bill “because it fails to prioritize border security first.”
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., in voting for the measure, said the legislation dramatically strengthens border security, holds employers who hire immigrants without documents accountable, punishes those who came to the country illegally, and reduces the national deficit by hundreds of billions of dollars.
“This plan will also reduce our budget deficit and boost our economy,” she said. “Now, it’s up to the U.S. House. If they fail to pass their own bill or our bipartisan Senate bill, it will be just the latest example of the failure of the House majority to provide certainty to businesses, or to show any ability to work in a bipartisan, common-sense way to address the real challenges facing our country.”
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS contributed to this report.
THE CONGRESSIONAL BUDGET OFFICE projects that the legislation would reduce the deficit by nearly $1 trillion over the next two decades.