Much more immigration reform discussion to come, locals say
A bipartisan group of senators announced they have reached an agreement on principles of legislation to rewrite immigration laws, but Crossroads residents acknowledge it could be a while before real immigration legislation reform.
Attempts to get immigration legislation have failed in the past, but Gino Tozzi, lecturer of political science at the University of Houston-Victoria, said there's a chance the legislation will get passed this time because of a shift in public opinion on immigration legislation.
"So far, it looks promising," Tozzi said. "I think there's an opening for this. There have been changes in the opinion polls in the aftermath of the election. People have been more in favor of a more open immigration policy."
The issue is also important because of the growing Hispanic electorate - constituents who are looking for legislators to take action and change how immigration is handled in the country - he said.
There are still many details to work out on the legislation, Tozzi noted, and even if it gets through the Senate, the legislation may not make it through the House of Representatives.
"There's still a great deal of polarization between the political parties. The Senate is traditionally the least polarized body. The House is much more so. Even if the president supports this, it will really come down to the House," he said.
Still, immigration reform is important to the country, he said. There are more than 11 million undocumented immigrants, he said, and changes in the system giving them a path to citizenship would allow them to become active, tax-paying citizens. It would also allow the government to keep track of the people coming into the country to work.
Benny Martinez, a longtime member of the League of United Latin American Citizens, said he was excited at the prospect of immigration law reform because it will give immigrants the chance to become active citizens of the United States.
"It's going to be better for our country," he said. "Those people will be able to serve in the military and pay their dues. If they want to become Americans, let them pay taxes and do everything else we're doing."
Macarena Hernandez, the Victoria Advocate Endowed Professor in Humanities at the University of Houston-Victoria, also pointed out that new immigration legislation would allow the people providing cheap labor a way to be a part of the system. As a migration route, Crossroads residents have a vested interest in paying close attention to this conversation about immigration, she said.
"This country was built on cheap labor, and you can't separate that from issues about immigration," she said. "It's not humane to force people into the shadows and not acknowledge they're here."
Hernandez noted that immigration is an issue that has been looked at repeatedly without any actual change being implemented.
"This is just the beginning of a very long and probably very heated conversation on immigration reform," she said. "There are a lot of misconceptions about immigration, and I just encourage people to really listen to this discussion before they get all excited."
Hernandez acknowledged the issue is a tough one that has led to sharp divides as even those in the same political party have varying views on how immigration should be handled. Despite these divides, Hernandez said she believes it is important that the issue is being discussed and that changes are eventually made.
"The law in its current existence doesn't really address the complexities of life," she said. "It's not like you can ask for a pair of hands for labor and not expect that they come with a life and needs and children and families and dreams and hopes just like the rest of us."