Hispanic Lawmakers Weigh Solutions to Illegal Immigration

Hispanic lawmakers and groups who have voiced opposition to Arizona's immigration enforcement law told Fox News how they would tackle the nation's illegal immigration problem.

"We believe that immigration reform will have to have different elements, enforcement, legalization," said Janet Murguia, president and chief executive of the National Council of La Raza.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., said he would crack down on employers who hire illegal immigrants.

"And we're going to make it clear to employers, you hire them, you're going to jail and that's how we're going to help the enforcement agents on the border," he said.

But Hispanic leaders believe the estimated 12 million illegal workers already in the U.S. should face very different treatment.

"People that are here, who are law abiding, are hardworking, been paying their taxes, have an opportunity to get in the back of the line, pay a fee and begin the process of legalization," said Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz.

"My solution is bring them out of the woodwork, punish them, fine them, tax them, right, tax them," Gutierrez said.

"We do need to make sure that steps are taken so that they can have an opportunity to be citizens," Murguia said.

Hispanic leaders and activists are careful not to use the word "amnesty," but critics say that's exactly what it is.

"It's no surprise they're all saying the same thing and making it sound as though it's tough and punitive and they'll be forced to pay taxes in the future, this kind of thing," said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies. "It's all just a way of dressing up amnesty."

"Even if you say, 'you have to learn English, you have to pay a fine,'" said Kris Kobach, a professor of law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. "You're basically giving them what they've stolen – that is amnesty."

But no matter what people call it, analysts say that makes President Obama's promise to tackle immigration overhaul early on less likely and forces him to walk a tightrope.

"He wants to satisfy the constituency groups that are demanding amnesty," Krikorian said. "On the other hand he understands that it's extraordinarily unpopular with the public and has no chance of passing Congress."

One of the authors of the Arizona law, which makes it a state crime to be in the country illegally, argues that even talk of amnesty makes illegal immigration worse, as it did with the last big amnesty in 1986.

"Why? Because people were coming in to fraudulently declare they were already here and try to get the amnesty," Kobach said.

But even those demanding more enforcement say it's understandable Mexican Americans would wonder if immigration enforcement is anti-Hispanic, rather than just anti-illegal immigration

And one analyst says pro-enforcement politicians have to keep that in mind if there's ever going to be a political consensus on how to deal with illegal immigration.