Immigration has been a contentious issue in a number of U.S. presidential primaries, especially in states with high concentrations of undocumented immigrants. It was not a factor in New York, however, which is home to millions of legal immigrants. The state’s Republican voters Tuesday gave their support to presumptive nominee Mitt Romney, who took a tough stance on illegal immigration in earlier primaries. Legal immigrants in New York shared their thoughts about illegal immigration.
Mudassar Khan came to the United States from Pakistan as a teenager and now owns an electronics store in New York City. He said his family waited 12 years for legal permission to immigrate, but he sympathizes with those who immigrate illegally.
“There has to be some desperation there in order for them to do something like that," he said.
Illegal Immigration quandary
Khan said illegal immigration is not an issue among South Asian immigrants in the neighborhood where his store is located, but he recognizes the dilemma posed by illegal immigrants.
“I’m not even for giving them a legal status over here, but there has to be something in between in order for us to keep it a fair game,” he said.
But defining fairness is controversial. Critics say illegal aliens violate the law, take jobs away from Americans and must be deported. Filipino-American immigration attorney J.T. Mallonga disagrees.
“You can’t deport all 12 million, nor can you jail all 12 million. But at this point in time, there is no avenue for them to address their legal residency issues," said Mallonga.
Issue becomes 'political football'
A bill before the U.S. Senate called the DREAM Act proposes a path to citizenship for young illegal immigrants who finish high school or serve in the military. But many Republicans oppose it, including presidential contender Romney.
“I like people coming here legally. And so I will secure the border with a fence, make sure we have enough border patrol agents to secure that fence, and I will also crack down on employers that hire people who are here illegally,” said Romney.
The Obama administration has deported a record number of illegal aliens, about 400,000 per year. A new study by the Pew Hispanic Center indicates that the number of illegal Mexican immigrants in the United States is declining. Even if immigration remains a volatile issue in an election year, though, Khan doesn't expect much to change.
“I’ve seen that in a lot of elections. They make a topic of it. When it comes down to doing something about it, nothing has been done. I think they’ll use this to get some votes, again, and when the election is over, they’ll probably forget about it and nothing major will happen,” he said.
And in New York, it's not likely to affect who wins the presidential race. Even Republicans concede that the state's millions of legal immigrants likely will vote for Obama’s reelection.