Illegal Immigration Battle Continues Heating Up - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

05/21/07-Tyler

Illegal Immigration Battle Continues Heating Up

A fiery debate in Washington will determine the future for millions of illegal immigrants, an estimated 12 million nationwide.   Many are in East Texas. 

A bill supported by the President, but opposed by many Americans would grant those illegal immigrants legal status.   The bill in the U.S. Senate would allow most of the 12 million illegals to stay in the country. Is that amnesty? 

"It's hard for those who are citizens to get a job, and everybody else is going out hiring other people," says Tyler resident Emmett Pettigrew.

For East Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert (R-Tyler), there's a more fundamental concern.

"You cannot reward illegal conduct without expecting more of that conduct," Gohmert said.

He says he stands with many Republicans in Congress against the plan.  Plus, he wants tighter border security first.

"Until you control who comes into this country, it doesn't matter what [immigrant] numbers you set," he added. 

The numbers:  illegals would have to pay a $5,000 fine, and return to their home country at least temporarily to file for their legal status.  There are myriad other details, but Tyler immigration attorney Natalie Fletcher and assistant Pat McCarthy work to turn immigrants into citizens.

They say these plans are not amnesty.

"To reenter legally, they're going to have to file paperwork and wait for the bureaucrats.  You may not be coming back in a month. You may be coming back in a year," Fletcher says of the fear some have about having to leave the country to re-enter.

Fletcher and McCarthy want a plan that makes sure families aren't disrupted.

"I'm skeptical that anything's going to be truly accomplished [in Congress,]" McCarthy says.

Ulysses Odorica says immigrants have produced this country's success, and law-abiding citizens must be able to contribute.

"Most [illegal immigrants] come here to work.  They would hard for their families," Odorica says, from behind the counter at Tyler's El Lugar restaurant.   The popular restaurant is a success built by immigrants from Mexico.

Odorica was born in the U.S., but hopes the doors to American opportunity remain open to those from outside.

"Everybody was an immigrant at one point in the United States." 

Right now, visa preference is given to those with family members already here. The bill in the Senate now would replace that with a system that rewards higher-level job skills and education most.  

There is a lot of tension in this debate. Republican Senators John Cornyn of Texas and John McCain of Arizona, got into it Thursday during a debate.

McCain threw some profanity Cornyn's way.   McCain, also a presidential candidate, accused Cornyn of trying to hold up the immigration bill. 

Cornyn told KLTV 7 Monday that McCain apologized to him and work now goes on.

"We've got to get our borders secure and eliminate document fraud and identity theft.  The current law is unenforceable.  I'm looking forward to working with [McCain] and other colleagues to try and do that," Cornyn said.

Cornyn said McCain was "parachuting" into final discussion on the bill while other senators had been hard at work.

McCain has missed dozens of votes this session while out campaigning for president.

Reported by Morgan Palmer.

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