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Federal Immigration Debate Hosts Praise, Lament From Both Sides

The White House-backed immigration bill will go before the full Senate for debate today. Full Focus reporter Heather Hill has local reaction to the proposed bill from affected voices in San Diego.

The White House-backed immigration bill will go before the full Senate for debate today. Full Focus reporter Heather Hill has local reaction to the proposed bill from affected voices in San Diego.

A bipartisan group of senators have crafted a bill they believe would deliver a major reform of U.S. immigration policy.

The bill would allow current illegal immigrants to come forward immediately and receive probationary legal status. It would also create four-year renewable 'Z' visas for those present in the U.S. before January first of this year.


Illegal immigrants would be eligible for permanent residency after paying $5,000 in fees and fines and after the head of the household returns to their home country.

But criticism coming from both sides of the immigration debate have many thinking there will be a long and drawn-out battle over the bill in Congress.

Enrique Morones is an immigrant rights activist and President of the San Diego-based Border Angels. He's been lobbying for years for humane immigration reform, and says this bill only gets it partly right.

Morones : We're saying there are some things to it that are good. There's a pathway to legalization and there's a way that some people get their visas, but there's more negatives than positives. Separation of families, increased wall, the militarization of the border, that's led to over 4,500 deaths. That's not realistic and that's not humanitarian. So while we're disappointed with what the bill says, we're encouraged that there's a bill out there.

Morones also says that while he supports an imposed fine for working in this country illegally, it should be much lower.


Morones : The $5,000 over eight years, that's a lot of money to me. And that's even a lot more money to the person that's barely making it, many living in canyons to save money. They're expected to pay $5,000 as the head of the household? That trust factor of going back and being let back in? That's another very touchy situation that's unacceptable.

Morones is also critical of the bill's point system for awarding visas to future immigrants. He says it would break up families by giving more weight to education and fluency in English than to family ties.

But some local farmers are applauding the bill for helping to provide labor for the fields.

A new temporary guest worker program would create two-year "Y" visas that could be renewed up to three times. But workers would be required to go home for a year, in between renewals.

Eric Larson is the Executive Director of the San Diego County Farm Bureau. He says San Diegans in the agriculture business are guardedly optimistic about the bill.

Larson : In an immigration bill, we need the ability for the workers to move easily back and forth across the border depending on the seasonal labor needs, and we also need recognition that we have a lot of workers here that aren't here with documentation. But they've got skills, they're important to the farms that they work on, and to have to re-train people or to lose them would really be a devastating blow to agriculture. The bill does recognize those special needs.

Unlike Morones, Larson believes the bill is reasonable and realistic. He hopes it won't undergo too many changes and revisions.

Larson : We remain hopeful that the senators and the members of the house will recognize "ag's" needs and it will pretty much stay like it is right now.

Biocom, the association for the life science community in Southern California, is also optimistic about the bill's inclusion of more temporary visas for highly-skilled workers.

President and CEO Joe Panetta says it’s important for technology companies in San Diego to have the educated workforce they need to succeed. Panetta says expanding the temporary worker visas offers a great short-term way for companies to get access to highly skilled talent.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says the debate could tie-up the senate for some time. He's predicting it may take a couple of weeks for senators to offer their amendments.