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Analysts Debate Scope, Direction of US Immigration Reforms

A father and daughter look out on the "All in for Citizenship" rally calling for an overhaul of U.S. immigration laws, Capitol HIll, Washington, DC, Wednesday, April 10, 2013. (Photo by Kate Woodsome)
A bipartisan group of U.S. senators is expected to announce a proposal in the coming days to overhaul the nation's immigration system.

Lawmakers are said to considering provisions that would relax visa requirements for some foreign workers, increase security on the borders and set terms that would enable immigrants who have illegally lived and worked in the country for years to become U.S. citizens.

Analysts disagree over what changes should be enacted to address issues related to the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States.

Lia Parada is the legislative director of America's Voice, a group that backs comprehensive immigration reform. She told VOA's Encounter program the current status of undocumented immigrants is unacceptable.

"It is no longer acceptable to have 11 million people living in this nation under the shadows, being paid under the table," she said.

Center for Immigration Studies policy analyst Jon Feere agreed that change is needed, but said those changes should not include reforms that could potentially hurt American workers.

"Jobs are scarce. There are about 27 million Americans with a high school degree or less who are unemployed, and I think that those people are going to find it very problematic that the federal government is providing work permits to people who do not belong here at a time when Americans can’t find jobs," said Feere.

He said what is needed is more emphasis on enforcing the immigration laws that are already on the books.

"Our immigration enforcement has been rather lackluster and we’ve seen increases in illegal immigration since 1986, during the first large-scale amnesty," said Feere.

Parada disagrees. She said the U.S. has done a good job enforcing current immigration laws.

"The assertion that we are not enforcing our laws is completely false. In 2012, we spent $18 billion taxpayer dollars on federal immigration enforcement," said Parada.

President Barack Obama won re-election last year with more than 70 percent of the Latino vote. Both Democrats and Republicans now see immigration as a key issue for attracting voters.

Parada believes the momentum behind the issue could lead to passage of a sweeping immigration reform bill this year. Feere, however, said a more narrowly focused bill is more likely to pass.