United States President George Bush is urging lawmakers to approve a multi-billion dollar plan to crackdown on illegal immigration. Nearly everyone agrees the immigration system needs comprehensive reforms, but there is fierce debate on how to fix it.
As many as 11 million immigrants may be working illegally in the United States, and the US chamber of Commerce says the actual number could be double that, if non working family members are included.
The national federation, which represents business interests in the United States, says America's immigration system is broken and needs to be fixed; a sentiment shared by President Bush who signed a $32 billion homeland security bill this week.
Mr. Bush wants to secure America's borders and get tough on illegal immigrants, but still fill the need for foreign workers. "We need to find a way to fill that demand by matching willing employers with willing workers from foreign countries on a temporary and legal basis."
The reforms, which still need congressional approval, include a temporary guest worker program that would allow undocumented aliens to work in the US for three years before they have to return to their home countries to apply for a new work permit.
The president's proposal also sets aside funds for more border enforcement guards, detention facilities and high tech improvements.
While there is agreement change is needed, there is disagreement on how it should be done.
Senators John McCain and Ted Kennedy want to give illegal immigrants an avenue to become legal US residents without the need to go home. Senator Kennedy says, "The principle difference is he (the President) would have those individuals return to the country, it doesn't really make a great deal of sense economically and it doesn't make sense from a humane point of view."
President Bush is opposed to granting amnesty to illegal (immigrants) already in the country and so is Senator McCain. He says his bill would require illegal immigrants to pay a $2,000 fine so they can apply for a tamper proof identification card before they can be eligible to work. "And then they would have to work for 6 years and then be eligible for a green card and get at the end of the line, which would probably take another 5 years. Anybody who calls that amnesty doesn't read the same dictionary I do, we think it's pretty tough.."
But not tough enough for the head of the National Border Patrol council. The union which represents more than 10,000 border patrol agents wants all illegal immigration halted.
T.J. Bonner claims illegal immigrants take away jobs and lower the quality of life in America. "It happened in the meat packing industry in the Midwest where you had Americans working for $18 an hour displaced by people who were recruited in Mexico to work for $6 an hour. It's happened in the drywall industry and many industries around the country."
But members of the Hispanic community, the largest and fastest growing minority in the US, say illegal immigrants take jobs Americans don't want.
Entire industries such as agriculture and construction rely on cheap immigrant labor.
Hector Flores, the national leader of the League of United Latin American Citizens or LULAC, says the economy would shut down if the US got rid of all illegal workers. "They're paying taxes like anybody else, they're working to contribute to our economy, we need to look at this very seriously and they need to be rewarded for that and not penalized."
LULAC endorses what it calls the practical approach taken by Senators McCain and Kennedy.
But while the debate goes on, an estimated 900,000 illegal immigrants cross the US, Mexican border every year. The illegal border crossings have prompted hundreds of volunteers to join a controversial civilian group called the Minutemen, who patrol the border, reporting suspicious activity to authorities.
Chuck Floyd says he joined to help protect his country. "Just in April when we were down In Arizona, we patrolled 23 miles and we stopped over 3,000 illegal (immigrants) in one day, just one day."
The Minutemen say in addition to illegal (immigrants) that are looking for work, the porous border is also vulnerable to infiltration by terrorists.
But some civil rights groups accuse the Minutemen of being vigilantes and racists, a charge the group strongly denies.
The Senate is expected to take up the issue of immigration reform in November.