News 12 at 11 o'clock, May 18, 2007
AUGUSTA, Ga.---We may never know the exact number, but there are hundreds of immigrants here in the Augusta area who will be affected by new immigration legislation.
News 12 talked to an immigration attorney who deals with this every day.
Immigration laws are tricky and complex, and they have critics and supporters. Attorney Paul Balducci believes a new proposal will ultimately change the face of the current immigration laws on the books.
Immigration is at the very top of the list of campaign platforms of those running for the 10th District seat.
"There are a lot of problems we need to solve, but we've got to seal the borders first," Paul Broun said at a recent debate.
"If we secure the border now, and resolve our illegal immigration problem, we will start solving our healthcare crisis," said Bill Greene.
"To be fair, everyone should go through the same long process...to become an American citizen," Evita Paschall said.
It is a long process, and that process just got a little more complicated.
"There's really going to be an big overhaul of the immigration system," Balducci told News 12.
"I've heard people say, 'Why can't they just go back and come back the legal way?' And the answer is, it's almost impossible to do that under our current system, the way it is," he said.
Balducci has been an immigration attorney for 15 years, and his Augusta clients have a multitude of issues. He says the new proposal has pros and cons. While it would offer many a way of achieving legal status and tighten US borders, it would make it harder for some.
"Most people have no knowledge of what it takes to get legal status," he said. "When somebody applies to have this Z visa, to have this new status, it's going to be granted provisionally until that person can be verified that they are not a threat or a risk."
The bottom line is this: an illegal immigrant could remain in the US, but it would take some time to become a citizen. Balducci says sending them back is not the best solution because it's just not realistic.
"They're already here. It's not like we're saying, 'Bring a whole bunch of new people.' They're already here anyway," he said.
"The reason they're here is employment. That's what brought them here. They can't get permanent benefits. They don't have social security numbers. What benefits do (people) think they're getting? They can't get Section 8 housing, they can't get welfare."
Some critics believe the new measure would be rewarding illegal immigrants by giving them a way of gaining legal status and staying in the US without being punished. Balducci says he disagrees.
"As Americans, I think we want to see the laws being enforced," he said. "Laws should be respected, and the idea of rewarding someone who's broken the law by giving them an amnesty, it just seems wrong to a lot of people.
"We need to recognize something. They've come here to work. They're not here outside looking for work...they already have jobs.
"I think that people just need to realize they want the American dream, they want to not live in fear of being deported, and understand they are making a contribution to our society."
With the new proposal, after illegal immigrants come forward and get what's called the Z visa, they'd pay a $5000 fine and get on track for permanent residency. To become citizens, they'd go to the end of the line behind those who've already applied.
No knows for sure how many illegal immigrants we have in this country, but there are estimates. The biggest concentrations are now in the South.
The Pew Hispanic Center lists the biggest populations of illegal immigrants in California, Texas, Florida, Arizona, North Carolina, Illinois, New York and New Jersey.
But Georgia doesn't lag far behind. The Pew Center estimates there are between 200,000 and 250,000 in the Peach State.
South Carolina is listed as having between 20,000 and 35,000 illegal immigrants.
Illegal Immigration Numbers
Highest populations: CA, TX, FL, AZ, NC
NY, and NJ (300,000+)
Source: Pew Hispanic Center