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In US, Debate Over Undocumented Immigrants Heats Up

  • Deborah Block

Businessman and Republican presidential contender Donald Trump, in his latest statements about U.S. immigration reform, said children born to immigrants living in the U.S. illegally should be denied citizenship.

"We have to make a whole new set of standards," said Trump. "And when people come in, they have to come in legally."

More than half of undocumented immigrants in the United States come from Mexico and about 25 percent more are from other countries in Central America.

Trump’s comments concern Maya, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, whose 8-year-old daughter was born in Maryland and is a U.S. citizen.

Maya, undocumented immigrant (D. Block/VOA)

Maya, undocumented immigrant (D. Block/VOA)

Maya recalled the night in Mexico, 10 years ago, when she crossed the Rio Grande in a small boat that brought her into Texas. “I knew I was going to have many problems because I’m undocumented,” she said.

Her boyfriend Jose, now her husband, illegally crossed the U.S. border six years earlier to get a better job. “Not that finding a job in Mexico is difficult, but the pay is very little,” he explained. “Sometimes you have to skip a meal because you have to buy a pair of shoes.”

Jose works as a landscaper for a company in Maryland that doesn’t ask questions about his immigration status. “I try to do a really good job so I will be valued, he said. “But I worry about whether I’ll be caught and deported.”

Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said the millions of people who are undocumented should be deported. “There are hundreds of millions of people who would like to move to the United States," said Stein. "It can’t be a self-selecting process for anyone who feels that they might do better, improve their economic situation.”

However, George Escobar with Casa de Maryland, a Latino advocacy group in Maryland, called the idea of mass deportation “ridiculous and incredibly expensive. It’s more cost-efficient and beneficial for the American economy if they’re legalized,” he added.

George Escobar, Casa de Maryland (D. Block/VOA)

George Escobar, Casa de Maryland (D. Block/VOA)

Obama’s plan challenged

In 2014, President Barack Obama announced executive action on immigration that would expand deportation relief to about half of undocumented immigrants. Under the plan, certain documented immigrants, including those with children who are U.S. citizens, would have the opportunity to get work documents. But the initiative is being challenged in court.

“The people who are saying we should go back to our countries are close-minded and afraid of change, Maya said. “And once you give someone documents, you are allowing that person to make a change for the better.”

Adding fuel to the immigration controversy are “sanctuary cities” - about 275 cites in some 30 states that do not allow the police to question or stop people simply to determine their immigration status. July's shooting death of Kate Steinle by a Mexican illegal immigrant in San Francisco sparked controversy over that city’s sanctuary city status.

Dan Stein pointed out that sanctuary city policies are against federal immigration law and believes police should be allowed to question people they think are in the U.S. illegally. "This needs to be part of the day-to-day policing in state and local communities," he said.

But Escobar said the police would be overstepping their bounds. “Any collaboration between federal immigration officials and local municipal police is totally uncalled for.”

Dan Stein, President, Federation of American Immigration Reform (D. Block/VOA)

Dan Stein, President, Federation of American Immigration Reform (D. Block/VOA)

Carlos, an undocumented immigrant from Peru living in Washington, D.C. – a sanctuary city -- thinks illegals would be “afraid to talk to the police or report crimes,” knowing they face deportation.

Both Stein and Escobar are in agreement about one thing, however - that the U.S. immigration system needs to be overhauled.

“There’s no question that you can’t just leave the door open and keep a flow coming in, said Escobar. “But you’ve got to look at patterns of migration to see which nationals come in and what the economy needs.”

But Stein has another formula. “People need to leave the country and conform with the law and then reapply for admission based on the visas that are available.”