Immigration Reform: Tennessee's Benefits, Burdens

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Knoxville (WVLT) - Lawmakers are considering whether to spend up to $30 billion to wall off our border with Mexico.

President Bush suggests the fix for our country's immigration crisis is hardly that simple.

Volunteer TV's Gordon Boyd takes a look at why the challenge is so tough.

The advocates and the critics, seem to agree that Knox County and East Tennessee are home to about 30,000 recent immigrants.

How many are on the legal track to citizenship? The count gets more complicated, as do the remedies.

When the immigration battle comes face to face, East Tennessee has been no stranger to shouting.

"Let us have a serious, civil, and conclusive debate." For Santos Aguilar, and his staff South Knoxville's Alianza Del Pueblo, Alliance for the People, the President's call boils down to, "Some type of immigration reform that would create a path to citizenship eventually," Aguilar says.

"A legal and orderly path for foreign workers to enter our country to work on a temporary basis," the President explained in his State of the Union.

"He wants to let the little crooks in, and keep the big crooks out," says Fabian Story, from Tennesseans for Immigration Reform and Education.

T-FIRE, Tennesseans for Immigration Reform and Education, claims that any so-called guest worker program amounts to amnesty for the thousands already here illegally; that any faster track to citizenship amounts to cutting line on immigrants following the rules.

And that any reform has to take into account, who is, or isn't paying taxes.

"Most of them aren't paying taxes because they're working under the table because their
employers can't report them," says Story.

"They wanna know, where can I pay my taxes, how am I gonna do it, and nobody is gonna give an answer," explains Aguilar.

People's Alliance maintains most immigrants are on-the-books and pulling their weight, through payroll and sales taxes.

"Contributions when they go buy groceries, contributions when they pay their rent," Santos says.

"They're not paying property taxes to pay for the schools, so who foots that burden?" Story says.

Congressional Republicans and Democrats are working together on bills to beef up border patrols, create ID systems so employers can track whose illegal and punish employers who ignore the law.

Reforms both sides call bandaids

"We need to concentrate on the areas that will work," says Santos.

"There's gonna be a stalemate because nobody wants to take that first step and offend a voter," adds Story.

You may remember, President Bush supported an immigration plan the senate passed last year.

But his own party killed it in the house.

The critical questions then, and now: who among the illegals would get a crack at citizenship, under what rules, and how much faster than the seven to ten years required now?