Local call for immigration reform finally being heard

By Anna Yee

January 28, 2013 Updated Jan 29, 2013 at 10:48 AM CDT

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Debra Hernandez uses her voice to call for a change in the local Hispanic community. She's a leader for the Twin Cities organization Latinos United for Change.

"Our number one priority is keeping the families together," said Hernandez.

Hernandez says families like hers are torn apart as loved ones get sent home in the process of becoming a U.S. citizen.

"You're waiting in a line for 20 years, 25 years, to even get that, and some people just don't have that time," said Hernandez. "They're here to work. They're here to make a living for their family."

That could all change.

On Monday, a group of leading Democratic and Republican U.S. senators proposed ways to make the millions of undocumented immigrants feel more at home.

"Those immigrants whose DNA we carry had something special in their makeup to get up and move to come to this great nation for an opportunity they couldn't find in another place," said U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D- Illinois).

"This is consistent with our country's tradition of being a nation of laws and of immigrants," said U.S. Senator John McCain, (R-Arizona).

The overhaul would:

- Speed up the path to citizenship for unauthorized citizens already here

- Secure the border and address visa overstays

- Reform the legal immigration system to keep families together

- Award green cards to immigrants who obtain advanced degrees at American universities

- Improve the employment verification system and penalize employers who hire illegal immigrants

- Allow more low skilled workers to enter the country for hard to fill jobs in areas like agriculture

And without documentation, Felipe Rodriguez, a member of Illinois People's Action in Peoria, says even local immigrants can't get the jobs they're qualified to work.

"It's tough," said Rodriguez. "People, instead of getting a good job, they probably go and make the minimum wage."

Activists like Rodriguez and Hernandez see the Senate's proposal as a start to taking action on something they've been talking about for years.

Senators hope to pass the bill by late spring or summer.

President Obama will share his immigration reform plan on Tuesday.

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