Region 8 Weighs In On Immigration Issues

April 12, 2006 – Posted at 4:53 p.m. CST

JONESBORO, AR – "They are not committing a crime, not to me, I don't think it is a crime to want to work and support their families," said Elizabeth Martinez, a Spanish translator for the Craighead County Health Department.

Immigration has played an important part in making the United States a melting pot of cultures and ideas. But the great debate has now become how we enforce our borders and what do we do with the 12 million illegal immigrants already in this country.

Each year thousands of immigrants make their way to the U.S. but what is the difference between legal and illegal immigrants?

"There is no difference," said Elizabeth Martinez, "Just paperwork. They do the jobs the same way, they pay taxes."

Immigrants that come to our country in search of one thing...the American dream.

"We want to work legally," said Benito Martinez who owns Tienda Mexicana San Juan.

"They do the jobs that, I am an American and I can say this, that some of us don't want to do," suggested Elizabeth Martinez.

Benito Martinez is from Mexico originally, but now an American citizen. For him, naturalization was a long, hard process that required him to travel back and forth from Mexico, a hardship on his family.

"You have to go through them to come back to the United States to become legal and it takes a year to two years and then the family can't live without the support of the other one," said Elizabeth Martinez.

Millions of illegal immigrants live and work in the U.S. but have not gone through the process of becoming an American citizen. A fact that doesn't bother the Martinezs family.

"That's ok, I don't care just as long as they get a chance," said Elizabeth Martinez.

Thousands have protested around the country in places like Little Rock for immigrant friendly reform. Simple changes that immigrants hope will give them an equal legal shot at becoming a citizen.

"I think they should do it the way they used to do it, go through the process, pay a penalty but let them stay in the United States and work from here," said Benito Martinez.

Under current law, most illegal immigrants face a misdemeanor charge for violating provisions against crossing the border without proper documents or not crossing at a border station The Senate will take up the matter when it returns from Easter recess.