ELKHART — Word of a possible fix to the thorny immigration issue — including a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants — is filtering to Elkhart’s immigrant community, prompting a measure of relief and hope.
“Many have waited for it for a long time,” said Ana Nava, sorting the shelves at the Hispanic market here where she works.
That said, no one’s thinking the debate is closed and, given previous starts and stops by lawmakers on the matter, skepticism persists that reform will actually come to pass.
“It’s uncertain. No one wants to believe a pipe dream ... because we know it’s a long fight (lawmakers) have.” said Laura Macias, bagging groceries at another Elkhart market that caters to Hispanics. She came legally, as a tourist, but has overstayed her visa.
A bipartisan coalition of U.S. Senators unveiled the rough parameters of an overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws today, Jan. 28, according to the Associated Press. Among other things, their proposal — likely focus of hot debate — creates a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, now estimated to number 11 million nationwide.
Elkhart County has a sizable population of Hispanics, mainly Mexican-Americans and Mexicans, and within the group, a pocket of undocumented immigrants, though the precise number is uncertain. They’ve lived largely in the shadows, worried about drawing attention of authorities, but today’s news seemed to thaw that reserve, at least a little.
Nava said a Salvadoran co-worker who’s here without papers expressed hope that she’d benefit. Nava, herself, has applied for deferred action, a mechanism younger undocumented immigrants may tap to attain permission to remain legally, but that route is not available to Nava’s older co-worker.
“She was more hopeful about this,” Nava said.
Kyle Hannon, president of the Greater Elkhart Chamber of Commerce, expressed support for the efforts in Washington D.C. Undocumented workers have long been a part of the local workforce, and Hannon alluded to the group here as a “productive segment” of the community.
“I think the current immigration system doesn’t reflect realistically the needs of the community,” he said. Reform efforts, he continued, should focus on securing U.S. borders to prevent the flow of undocumented immigrants, creating work permits for immigrants that match employers’ needs and giving employers a reliable means of checking employees’ migratory status.
Even Bob Schrameyer, head of an anti-illegal immigrant groups, Citizens for Immigration Reform, or CILE, seemed open to the reform talk, including the possibility of a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
“I think there probably should be a pathway to citizenship,” he said. “I guess let’s get realistic about it. Nobody’s going to round them up, put them on the bus (back to their home countries). Let’s pull them out of the shadows, register them.”
Rocio Arevalo, director of client services at LaCasa of Goshen, cautioned undocumented immigrants against reading too much into the early reports about reform talk. At this stage, nothing has been formalized.
“We always try to remind people to wait, take a look at the news, talk to an attorney,” she said. “We advise caution... As of this point, there is nothing that is law.”
Reform talks could take week, or months, Arevalo said. Even then, any new procedures for undocumented immigrants would require an application process that would likely take time.