US Senate hearings to begin today for immigration-reform bill

2013-04-19T00:00:00Z US Senate hearings to begin today for immigration-reform billPerla Trevizo and Joseph Treviño Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

The immigration-reform bill by the so-called "Gang of Eight" is a workable solution to the country's broken immigration system, Arizona Sen. John McCain told reporters Thursday.

"I think, for a change, the taxpayers might have gotten their money's worth," McCain, one of the leaders of the bipartisan group, joked during a teleconference.

"It's important to assure the people in Arizona we won't have a third wave (of illegal immigration). We gave amnesty to 3 million in 1986 with a promise we would secure our border. Now we have 11 million."

Both McCain and Sen. Jeff Flake, another Arizona member of the Gang of Eight, said the bill would pay for itself through the fees collected from those seeking legal status and after 10 years' permanent residency - a total of $2,000.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold the first hearing on the legislation today. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is scheduled to testify.

As details continue to emerge, people from both sides of the debate easily find aspects of the bill to criticize.

"There are going to be some bitter pills I'm going to have to swallow," said U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva, a Democrat, adding he won't be the only one.

Grijalva said he is concerned about family unification and the militarization of the border.

The bill would allocate $4.5 billion to the Department of Homeland Security to be spent on fencing, increasing deployment of Border Patrol agents, the National Guard and for surveillance technology.

U.S. Rep. Ron Barber, also a Democrat from Arizona, said he's encouraged by the bill. "Just last week, I urged the senators working on this legislation to make border security a priority. I asked them to remember the families I represent who live and work on the border," he said in a written statement.

While they agreed with aspects of the new immigration act, a group of activists, lawyers and environmentalists, during a news conference at the offices of the Border Action Network, decried parts they say are less humane to people, animals and the environment.

"More and more people are dying on the border already, even though immigration is down," said Juanita Molina, director of the pro-immigration nonprofit organization.

Granting the Border Patrol a waiver to laws regulating the building of roads, towers or walls is a problem for environmentalists, said Dan Millis of the Sierra Club.

For others, the good in the bill outweighs the bad.

"The bill is a complete revamping of what we already have. Not everyone is going to be 100 percent pleased, but in the aggregate it's a huge step in the right direction," said Maurice Goldman, a local immigration attorney.

The penalties and fees for people to legalize their status are reasonable, he said.

And Lea Márquez-Peterson, president of the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said she's hopeful the bill will move forward.

She's still looking into the caps for what would be a newly created guest-worker program for lower-skilled labor. Employers would be required to verify the legal status of all workers in the program, which would initially accommodate about 20,000 people and gradually 75,000.

Contact reporter Perla Trevizo at or at 573-4213. On Twitter: @Perla_Trevizo

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