Immigration and Opening America's "Golden Door"

S.B. 1070 is the controversial new Arizona immigration law, parts of which a federal judge found unconstitutional last month. As the appeal of that decision works its way toward the Supreme Court, the argument in the court of public opinion goes on as well. Our Cover Story is reported by John Blackstone:

In the heat of the Arizona summer, America's long-simmering immigration debate is boiling over.

While protestors take to the streets, the state and federal governments are fighting in court over who can write and enforce immigration law.

When Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed the state's tough new immigration law in April, she said it was needed because of Washington's failures. She was angered by the court decision that - temporarily at least - blocked major parts of the law.

"Now they've got this temporary injunction, they need to step up, the feds do, and do the job they have the responsibility to do for the people of America and the people of Arizona," Brewer said.

Former Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano now has responsibility for securing the border as Secretary of Homeland Security.

"There's frustration out there," she said. "I think there's a misconception that securing the border means sealing the border. And anyone who has been on the border knows that that's just a physical impossibility among other things. You don't seal the border, but you secure the border."

Securing the border was Harold Beasley's job for more than three decades. Now retired in Arizona, the current battle has him talking about putting his uniform on again.

"Why don't you just give it a try - bring me out of retirement and give me 200 Border Patrol agents and I'll show you how many people I can deport in a couple of months," Beasley said. "You know, it's a hard job, but you can do it."

If the immigration debate means a lot to Harold Beasley, it means everything to 23-year-old Hermann. He's an undocumented immigrant we met at a church gathering.

He was brought here by his family when he was 15, "and I completely fell in love with the country. I felt, you know, there's so many opportunities. There's so many things you can do here. I want to stay. I want to, you know, be someone. I want to go to school, be the best I can be."

Beasley said, "I see people in my hometown of Phoenix, Ariz., now demonstrating, carrying signs, saying that I owe them something. I owe them rights. I owe them, you know, welfare. I owe them this and I owe them that."

The estimated 460,000 illegal immigrants in Arizona (according to DHS figures) cost the state about $900 million a year - for education, healthcare and incarceration, according to Arizona officials.
And at a time when unemployment in Arizona is 9.6 percent, there are fears undocumented workers are taking jobs Americans should have.

The current atmosphere leaves Hermann nervous . . . but eager to tell his story.

"For eight years, I've been in the shadows," he said. "It's been to a point where you're almost paranoid, walking around. But I think it's now or never. You gotta say what you gotta say."

Hermann's family came from Venezuela on tourist visas but never left. He went to high school, and then college.

"And I worked full time while I was at school, always 40 hours," Hermann said. "Actually, my senior year, all throughout the year, I worked at nights, delivering newspapers."

The day of his college graduation he was awarded not one degree, but two: Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, Magna cum laude; and Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, Magna cum laude as well.

And the speaker that day was President Obama.

"We need young people like you to step up," he told the audience at the commencement. "We need your daring. We need your enthusiasm. We need your energy. We need your imagination."

"If there was a pathway for me to become legalized even right now, I would do it, I would do it," Hermann said.

It's often said illegal immigrants don't pay taxes. Hermann does pay taxes, and showed me his returns. He doesn't have a Social Security number, but the IRS gives undocumented workers a special taxpayer number information that's not shared with immigration authorities.

"It's funny how the system works, you know?" Hermann said. "They won't give you that chance to work, but they do want you to pay those taxes."

The often-angry debate in Arizona reflects a discussion that's been going on through much of America's history. The country's dilemma is whether yet another influx of outsiders can be accepted into a nation of immigrants.

Each year about 700,000 people raise their hands to be sworn in as American citizens.

Getting into America legally isn't quick or easy. Mumtaz Shamsee, from Pakistan, became an American citizen last month.

"The whole process, since the day I arrived till the day I took my oath, is almost 19 years," said Shamsee.

He came here first on a student visa. Then, after graduating as a computer engineer, he got a temporary work visa, and eventually citizenship.

"I feel like I earned my citizenship," Shamsee said. "Because the rule is, if you are on work visa, H1, and you get laid off, you have to find another job or you are illegal, your status is illegal. You're supposed to leave the country."

Fortunately for him his skills were in demand in Silicon Valley, so he could stay. Many other prospective immigrants have to wait patiently in their home countries.

"There has to be a visa number available, and sometimes that actually can take several years," said Susan Curda of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Curda says to come here legally, most immigrants need either a job offer or an immediate family member already living here, then get in line.

"The countries that have the most people wanting to come to the United States, the wait's going to be longer," she said.

In Arizona, fears that the state is being overrun by those who won't wait and that the border is out of control don't match reality, says Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano.

"There are more than twice as many border patrol agents at the border than just a few years ago," Napolitano said. "There's more technology. There's more infrastructure. There's more air cover. And there's more every day on the way."

Despite a perception that illegal immigrants are causing a crime wave, the FBI says violent crime near the border has actually fallen in the past decade . . . in Phoenix down 10 percent . . . in San Diego down 17 percent . . . in El Paso, Texas down 36 percent.

In fact, illegal immigration as a whole is actually declining, although the poor economy may have as much to do with that as improved border security.

The Department of Homeland Security estimates the number of undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. dropped from 11.6 million in January 2008 to 10.8 million in January 2009.

"Even if that has been going on and the numbers are all going in the right direction and all the rest, I think there's a realization, particularly in border states, that the underlying immigration law needs to be updated, needs to be reformed," Napolitano said.

Many young undocumented immigrants, like Hermann, have their hopes pinned on the Dream Act, legislation first introduced in 2001 that has stalled in Congress.

It would award residency to many brought here as children younger than16, who have graduated from high school. Hermann sees the Dream Act as his chance to make a life in the country where he studied, works and pays taxes.

"This is my home," Hermann said. "I do feel like I'm an American. You know, I have great love, great respect for this country. I've always had it."

But Hermann's wish to live here legally is one shared by millions around the world.

Many immigrants think coming to America is like winning a lottery. And that's exactly how Paras and Davita Upadhyay from Nepal got here. They were winners of the State Departments Diversity Visa Lottery, which awards 55,000 visas a year to people in countries that send few immigrants to America.

"He was all excited," said Davita. "It was exciting. We were not expecting that.

"Yeah, we were not expecting that," Paras said.

More people want to come the United States than to anywhere else, and that is the challenge of immigration reform. Among all those who dream of becoming American, how do we choose who to accept?