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As Congress moves forward with immigration reform, we take a look at how this issue connects to culture, business and families in the Northwest.Our region is home to a unique blend of immigrants who work in all parts of our economy — from high-tech to agriculture. This population already has a deeply-rooted history here. And its ranks are expanding rapidly.Proposals for comprehensive immigration reform address border security, employment verification, guest-worker programs and pathway to citizenship for an estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the US.

Immigration Reform Bill Draws Mixed Reaction

Liz Jones

The mood was upbeat Wednesday afternoon as supporters of immigration reform gathered in Seattle for a press conference. Students, union workers and immigrant advocates cheered the long-awaited arrival of a proposed bill in Congress. But many at the event also voiced mixed feelings about a few things the bill includes and a few things it leaves out.

The proposed bill was filed in the US Senate before dawn Wednesday and word spread fast. Seattle resident Otts Bolisay saw the news within minutes on Twitter. He’s an immigrant from the Bahamas who’s currently in the US on a work visa.

When the bill dropped, Bolisay’s partner of 13 years, Ken Thompson, had already gone to bed. “And I think I kind of mumbled to him, ‘the bill’s out,’” Bolisay recalled.

But the couple waited until morning to confirm their disappointment. They’d hoped the proposal would include an option for same-sex couples to apply for marriage-based green cards, as opposite-sex couples are allowed to do. However, the bill does not address this issue.

Overall, the crowd was optimistic at Wednesday’s event, which was organized by the immigrant rights group One America. “Just to see that they finally have something out was very exciting,” said Xochitl Rojas. "It’s finally becoming reality.”

Rojas, her parents and siblings entered the US illegally, across the Mexico border. Rojas was a toddler at the time. Now, she’s graduated college, gotten married and has a toddler of her own. She says her 4-year-old son asks her every week when he can go meet his relatives in Mexico.

The proposed bill offers a path to citizenship to Rojas and the estimated 11 million immigrants who are in the country illegally. The process would take about 13 years. “The timeframe that you have to wait is pretty long,” Rojas said. “If they can even cut that in half, that would be great.”

On the flip side, Rojas said she was surprised and relieved about another provision in the bill that would extend the citizenship path to some people who’ve been deported before, like her father. “He’s my best friend," Rojas said. "I really need him and it would be really sad if we were separated.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee plans to hold a hearing Friday, while debate on this complex bill is expected to last several months. 

Year started with KUOW: 2006