OGDEN -- Victor Villalvazo slid groceries past the scanner at the checkout line of Rancho Market on Thursday afternoon. His tall, thin frame moved quickly from one item to the next with each beep of the scanner. Later that night the 20-year-old would study for his pre-med classes at Weber State University, but for the remainder of his shift, he bagged groceries and greeted customers.
"I came to Ogden two years ago for school," he said in between customers. "I want to become a doctor so I can help immigrants who might not have health insurance."
Villalvazo said he understood the problems many immigrants face in the United States because he has lived through them. He was brought to this country by his parents when he was a year old, and by the time he was 4 the Jalisco, Mexico, native was working in California's Central Valley picking fruits and vegetables.
"I found out real quick what it was like to wake up at 4 a.m. to go to work and not come back until the sun came down," he said. "My family, like a lot of other families who moved here from Mexico, struggled in this country with low-paying jobs and discrimination. I definitely got to see what it was like living on the other side of the immigration issue."
He kept working in the fields until his junior year of high school, and although he received his green card years before, he recalls many of his friends not having documentation.
"There was a lot of fear," he said. "Families were always worried about getting separated. Even if the kids were citizens, there was always this feeling that their parents might get deported."
Villalvazo sees a lot of the same issues that affected undocumented workers in California here in Utah. He said many aren't able to find steady work and the fear of deportation leads them to either acquire fake papers, or not work at all. They don't want to risk going back to their country of origin because of the dangers of crossing the border again.
"If there can be a law that gives them a chance to find work right away most of them would, because that's what they're here for," Villalvazo said.
After decades trying to find the middle ground on immigration reform, a bipartisan group of senators known as the "Gang of Eight" (Charles Schumer, D-NY,; John McCain, R-Ariz.; Dick Durbin, D-Ill.; Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.; Robert Menendez, D-N.J.; Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.; Michael Bennet, D-Colo.; Marco Rubio, R-Fla.) believe they've found a reasonable solution to both protect the border and create accountability for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S.
Under the proposed bill, undocumented immigrants who were already in the U.S. before Jan. 1, 2012, would pay a $1,000 fine, pay back taxes on earned income, learn English, and remain employed throughout the 13 year waiting period required to obtain citizenship.
The bill also sets lofty goals for the Department of Homeland Security. The agency would be given five years to reach 100 percent surveillance and 90 percent apprehension rates in "high-risk" areas along the 1,969-mile border. To do this DHS would receive $4.5 billion in funding to hire 3,500 more Border Patrol agents, increase the number of unmanned drones and make improvements to walls and fences.
The bipartisan nature of the bill is already evident in the dissension coming from lawmakers and special interests groups. Some, like former Republican senator and current Heritage Foundation President Jim DeMint, argue that the path to citizenship is a form of amnesty. On the other side, some Democrats believe the border security aspects of the bill are too excessive and the mandatory waiting period is too long.
"The bill isn't perfect," Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said in a phone interview. "But I really want to commend all my colleagues who have been working hard on it."
The senator touts his experience and track record on trying to find a way to fix the immigration system for decades. He said he wanted to approach the new bill with an open mind, but he still had to go over the 844-page document with a "fine-toothed comb."
"I want to be as careful as I can," he said. "If we're going to have an immigration reform bill, I want to make sure it works. The devil is always in the details."
He commended the work Rubio put into the bill. However, he does have concerns. He wants to know how the bill will handle entitlements like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. The senator contends the programs are on the road to insolvency and adding even a fraction of the undocumented to the Medicare budget is "pretty scary stuff."
He also wants to know how the government will keep more people from crossing the border after millions are given the chance to become citizens.
"I want to make sure the bill sufficiently incentivises legal immigration while disincentivising illegal immigration," he said.
Regardless, Hatch understands that something has to be done and reiterated his willingness to keep an open mind.
"A lot of these people are good, hardworking people," he said. "And we have to take that into consideration."
Villalvazo hopes that lawmakers will take Hatch's point of view in considering the bill.
"The system needs to be fixed, and immigrants who want to work deserve a chance to live their lives in peace," he said. "In the end, we'll all benefit from them coming out of the shadows."