Tennesseans React to Proposed Immigration Reform - NewsChannel5.com | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

Tennesseans React to Proposed Immigration Reform

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by Emily Luxen

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - A new bill could pave the way for millions of undocumented immigrants nationwide to become citizens.

A bipartisan group of senators known as the "Gang of Eight" formally filed legislation early Wednesday calling for border security as the cornerstone of immigration reform.

The bill would allow undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States before December 31, 2011, and who are free of felony convictions, to apply for legal status. 

After paying a penalty of up to $500 for coming to the United States illegally, they would be placed on a 10-year path to citizenship.

The bill would also designates billions of dollars to beef up border security.

Members of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC) said this bill marks an exciting step forward, and it could bring positive changes for immigrants in Tennessee.

"They're raising their families here, they're working here, and they are contributing members of society," said Eben Cathey, the TIRRC Communications Coordinator. " They need an opportunity to earn citizenship."

TIRRC reported Tennessee has the third fastest growing immigrant population in the country, and there are as many as 100,000 undocumented immigrants living in the state.

19-years-old Grecia Esparza moved to the United States from Mexico with her family at age 8.  She said if the bill passes, it could open doors for her in the future.

"I wouldn't be undocumented, and I would be a citizen," said Esparza. "I wouldn't be discriminated against.   I could go to college and do everything I've dreamed of."

Critics maintain the bill still needs work.  Some argue the bill grants amnesty for people in the country illegally, and others have expressed concerns about the lengthy citizenship process and high required fees.

In a statement, Sen. Lamar Alexander said: "Conservatives ought to be leading the charge to create a legal system of immigration for our country. You cannot become French or Japanese, but to become a citizen of our country you must become an American, and it's our job to set the rules for that."

Sen. Bob Corker's spokesperson Laura Herzog also released a statement on the issue: "Senator Corker would like to see the issue of immigration reform resolved. The devil is in the details, and the bill will have to go through the Judiciary Committee first, but based on what he has read thus far he is interested in learning more and optimistic that we have an opportunity to do something that is productive for our country."     

The bill still has to get the approval of the Senate Judiciary Committee before going before the full Senate. 

Members of the House are also working on their own immigration overhaul plan, which also includes border security measures.

Email: eluxen@newschannel5.com
Facebook: Facebook.com/NC5EmilyLuxen
Twitter: Twitter.com/NC5_EmilyLuxen

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