WOODBURY - Undocumented immigrants on Long Island hope proposed legislation will allow them to become Americans.
Luba Cortes has lived on Long Island for 13 years. She graduated high school, volunteers and works part-time. Cortes dreams of finishing college and becoming a lawyer, but she doesn’t qualify for aid because she's an illegal immigrant.
"I pledged the same flag all my life," Cortes says. "I've studied the history here for years. You know, I have assimilated to this culture more than I have my own country, and I just feel like an American."
MORE: Faces of Immigration
Cortes' mom left her job as a lawyer in Mexico and brought her daughter to the U.S. illegally more than a decade ago because she wanted a chance at a better life in America.
There are harsh penalties on illegal immigrants who apply for legal citizenship due to 1996 immigration legislation. Illegal immigrants who apply for citizenship must return to their native country while the application is being processed. But once they leave the U.S., they may not be allowed back.
The Senate immigration bill provides a path to citizenship for immigrants who arrived illegally before Dec. 31, 2011. It also includes funding for border security, including 20,000 new border patrol agents, 700 miles of fencing, unmanned drones and electronic surveillance. All employers must also use E-Verify, a program to electronically verify each employees' legal status, within four years.
The issues of jobs and border security are the most troublesome for those who oppose the bill.
Immigrants say they know the bill is not perfect, but for them, it's a chance to stop living in the shadows and finally be recognized as Americans.
To watch more extended interviews with the Cortes family, click the video to the left or go to News 12 Extra on Optimum TV channel 612.