By Jeff Seldin
U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to make immigration reform a priority in his State of the Union Address. But already, talk of tackling this controversial issue is gaining momentum.
There are an estimated 11-million illegal immigrants in the United States with more still hoping to cross the border.
Claudia Hernandez came here as a child, and like many in her situation, she feels she belongs in the U.S.
“I have been here more than half of my life, and I respect the United States. This is my country,” she said.
Only days into his second term, President Obama began the push for change.
“The time has come for common-sense, comprehensive immigration reform,” he stated. “The time is now.”
Already, Congress has begun to hold hearings.
And a bipartisan group of senators, including former Republican presidential candidate John McCain, is pushing ahead with a plan of its own.
“We have been too content for too long to allow individuals to mow our lawn, serve us food, clean our homes and even watch our children while not affording them any of the benefits that make our country so great,” McCain said.
The bi-partisan plan calls for tighter border controls as well as a path to citizenship, something President Obama insists upon.
That worries Jim Gilchrist. He founded the Minuteman Project, a citizen’s group that helps guard the border.
“If we are going to grant amnesty to 15 to 30-million people, who are here illegally now, we are going to be granting amnesty to 300 million,” he added. “Who will follow them over the next several decades.”
Other activists and lawmakers say proposals to secure the borders don’t go far enough – even though the United States spends more money on immigration enforcement than on all other federal law enforcement activities combined.
In the meantime, the pressure is on – both President Obama and Congress.
Janet Murguia heads La Raza, the largest U.S. Hispanic civil rights and advocacy group. “The reality is that Hispanic and Latin voters went to the polls on election day with the economy on their minds, but with immigration reform in their hearts,” she said.
With the State of the Union address as a platform, advocates on all sides of the issue are hoping something gets done, all too aware such hopes have been dashed before.