Tougher sanctions against those who hire immigrants in the country illegally, a system that would better check legal status, tighter security along the U.S.-Mexico border with the influx of nearly $5 billion.
These are just a few of the principal tenets of an immigration reform bill that took a one-day back seat to victims of the Boston Marathon bombing but is now going full bore, led by the so-called Gang of Eight, a bipartisan bunch of U.S. senators.
And here comes the biggest part of the package: An estimated 11 million undocumented workers in the United States would be granted a path to U.S. citizenship — although it would to take them at least a decade, possibly more.
They would have to pay thousands of dollars in fines and back taxes, and, in what has emerged as one of the biggest disappointments for many immigrants here, families would have more difficulty bringing over immediate family members from their native countries. Now it’s relatively easy to petition the federal government to do this.
But this is all just a proposal. It’s not yet law. It’s got a long way to go before it becomes law.
And as the public gets more information about the 844-page bill, a group of laborers stand outside the broken-down and shuttered Big Mamma’s Soul Food Rib Shack on Bonanza Road just east of Rancho Drive.
Their adrenaline picks up at the sight of a pickup or somebody in the construction business looking for a carpenter.
They are out there for a job. Any job.
Many of them swam the Rio Grande, walked through the Sonoran Desert or jumped fences to get here. Some are here legally; some are here illegally. All of them are desperately poor. All are struggling in a city where construction jobs have dwindled.
As the economy in Las Vegas still reels from a deep recession, brought on by the subprime mortgage crisis, these workers are proof of the hard times.
While Latino groups held get-togethers in Las Vegas and across the country Wednesday to either laud or express cautious optimism — many of them DREAMers and longtime workers without required documents — these laborers congregated at this particular stretch of street, unaware of the fanfare or even the talk of reform.
“Ni modo — whatever,” said a 44–year-old Jose Ochoa, who said he just got to Las Vegas in the summer, crossing the Sonoran Desert just south of Tucson, Ariz. “There’s no way I’m going to qualify. Maybe the rest of the guys out here will qualify, but not me.”
Teomodoro Contreras, a 55-year-old who looks much older than he is, ran up, reached into his pocket and proudly flashed his Social Security card and permanent legal alien resident card.
“Reagan!” he shouted, referring to the President Ronald Reagan. “Simpson-Rodino.”
Reagan was the last president to sign comprehensive immigration reform. Then-Sen. Alan Simpson, a Republican, and then-Rep. Peter Rodino, a Democrat, were responsible for writing a law that extended amnesty to millions of workers in the United States illegally.
That a guy such as Contreras, literally on his last legs, could recite these key politicians was nothing short of amazing. And it’s not uncommon among immigrants to show their love for Ronald Reagan, for it was he who signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986.
Now comes the Gang of Eight.
The fact that there were eight of them, opposed to two back in the Reagan days, just might offer an example of how even more politically divisive the issue is now than it was back then.
“It’s been not 10 years, not 20 years, but decades,” said Fernando Romero, regional field director for the National Council for La Raza, an immigrant rights group.
He voiced his opinion inside the headquarters of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada in Las Vegas, where a roundtable was held Wednesday.
“It’s not going to be the best bill, but it’s not going to be the worst, either,” Romero said before a crowd of 50 people. “It’s a fair bill.”
But nearly all present cautioned that the bill is only in its beginning stages and that it could change as it makes its way through Congress.
Peter Ashman, a Las Vegas immigration attorney fresh off a trip to Washington, said the bill is promising but that only time will tell whether the federal government will ever have true success holding businesses accountable.
“It’s hit or miss,” he said of the enforcement of businesses who hire immigrants who are in the country illegally, calling it the root of the immigration problem.
As for the laborers outside the closed soul food joint, they have said there have been occasional raids by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers of late, but they don’t worry about it too much. They are more worried about filling their bellies.
Whether this group will endure their present-day hardships and find work or fade away is anybody’s guess, immigration reform or not.
Many of them admitted that no fence, or desert or body of water can stop them, not as long the rural villages in far-flung places of southern Mexico remain as they left them.
“This is nothing,” said Contreras, the proud immigrant with his Social Security card. “As long as there’s poverty over there and jobs over here, I think everyone will keep coming.”
Contact reporter Tom Ragan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-224-5512.