Illegal immigration is an issue that's dividing people all over the country. As a drug war rages just south of the border, the federal government is trying to prevent the violence from spilling over into the United States. And some say, most immigrants are just trying to make a better life for themselves and their families.
In the 1800's and early 1900's, millions of foreigners flocked to the United States. It's a practice that helped lay the foundation for this country. But now, a certain kind of immigration is spurring national debate.
It's the first installment of our special series: “Illegal Intrusion".
The focus on immigration has shifted south in recent decades as thousands people began pouring over a mostly unchecked U.S./Mexican border.
“We're either going to have a lawful system of immigration or we're not,” said U.S. Republican Senator from Alabama Jeff Sessions.
Illegal immigration has become a powerful and polarizing political issue.
“There's a controversy because people don't understand the issues, this is my firm belief,”
Rich Lopez is an advocate for Latinos in the wiregrass. He says people fear what they don't understand.
“When it comes to human relations and getting to know one another, we're cowards, if you don't speak the right language, if we don't sound the same, everybody panics,” said Lopez.
Lopez estimates there are 30,000 illegal immigrants living in the wiregrass.
“I think we need to start understanding what illegal immigration is first of all and realize that we stand for the very same things. (They) just want an opportunity to come here to have their families live in the United States in a safe place and they want to cooperate, they want to be good model citizens,” added Lopez.
“In my view, the first and foremost thing is to protect the American heritage of law,”
Senator Sessions believes the top priority should be upholding the law of the land.
“The President of the United States can make this happen, the president is the chief law enforcement officer,” said Sen. Sessions.
Senator Sessions says he spoke with President Barack Obama about the issue.
“I told him that this idea comprehensive reform would not work until he demonstrated that the border and the illegality was under control,”
“The federal government needs to do what they do on the border, they need to seal off the border,” said Houston County Sheriff Andy Hughes.
The illegal immigration issue is trickling down to the state and local levels.
“For the last several years at the Alabama state house this has been a huge issue for our state,” said Alabama State Senator Republican Harri Anne Smith.
Senator Smith agrees with Sessions: the law is the law.
“People are really mad about what's going on about entering this country and not obeying the law. Americans just want to see the law followed,” added Sen. Smith.
Lopez agrees, but instead of deportation, he wants to see all immigrants, not just Latinos, get on the path to becoming citizens.
“We're not looking for amnesty, we're looking an opportunity for undocumented, Latinos, Germans, whoever, who want to document themselves,” said Lopez.
Lopez says becoming a U.S. citizen is a very long and difficult process.
He says several years ago, thousands of candidates for citizenship actually sued the Department of Homeland Security because they were too slow processing applications.
Thursday, News 4 will take a look at what local law enforcement can do to combat illegal immigration.