WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- As President Barack Obama and some U.S. Senators push for comprehensive immigration reform, some undocumented immigrants in South Florida said the proposed changes to federal law would allow some families to remain together.
"I'm trying to do everything according to law and I'm still stuck," said Marcelo Villar, a Chile native who moved to South Florida 16 years ago. "I fell in love with an American citizen. We got married. We got two beautiful children. And, I still cannot legalize my status."
Villar, who arrived in the United States with a maritime crew member visa to work for a cruise line in Miami, isn't allowed to become a citizen under current law.
"I'm a good father. I have no criminal record. I pay my taxes. I try to do everything according to law. The only thing is I don't have my papers," he said.
The sweeping proposed overhaul of the nation's immigration system has led to intense political debate.
Changes proposed by eight U.S. senators would require immigrants to pass criminal background checks, pay back taxes and learn to speak English as part of a path to citizenship.
"Most people are coming to actually do an honest day of work, trying to give their kids a better life [and] trying to give them more opportunity," said Richard Hujber, a former federal prosecutor and South Florida immigration attorney. "To be able to adjust to a whole new culture and language and society [is] a huge sacrifice."
Still, some critics said the proposed reforms didn't address what they said were core problems.
"We're basically giving them amnesty rather than actually addressing the problem or enforcing the current laws right now," said Everett Wilkinson, chairman of Liberty.com, a West Palm Beach-based communications hub for Tea Party, Patriot and Liberty groups. "We need to enforce the laws and, you know, have an equal playing field where everybody plays by the same rules and not allow people to break the law or, quote unquote, rules."
Villar, who is not sure if he will be deported, said staying in the United States would allow his family to stay together.
"I think I can do more for my family [and] even for society," he said. "The biggest worry is that if I leave, if I get thrown out of the country, my whole family is going to suffer. They are either going to have to stay here and be helped by the government or they are going to have to come back with me to my country."