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Immigration debate intensifies in border towns

Sundaynight along the banks of the Rio Grande, alert Border Patrol agents grabbed a man moments after he crossed the border. But two others with him got away.

"The smugglers already know, you know, where they can cross," says Eugenio Rodriguez, a field operations supervisor with the U.S. Border Patrol.

The impact of illegal immigration, once felt most acutely in California, Texas and Arizona, is now felt far and wide. Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, New York and North Carolina round out the states that account for two-thirds of the undocumented population. In more and more cities across the country, illegal workers are lining up on street corners for jobs, creating the latest flashpoints in the immigration reform debate.

But even here along the Mexico border — where issues of immigration are well understood — there is anxiety and sharp disagreement over what to do about undocumented workers.

"The face of this country is changing," says Diana Palacious, the city manager of Crystal City, Texas. "And some people want to find any way possible to keep that from happening."

That face has already changed in Crystal City, a town of migrant workers through most of the 20th century. Latinos are the majority and now even hold major political offices. And yet the immigration debate here is no less passionate.

"You have those who are going to come work the system, people are starting to say that's not right," says resident Imelda Allen.

"They come here out of necessity," says Judge Joe Luna. "They want to come here to work, and we should treat them humanely. We should pay them decent wages."

Meantime, in the mostly Latino town of Maywood, Calif., the city council has taken the debate to a new level — vowing to defy any federal crackdown on illegal immigrants.

"The city of Maywood would not have its police officers act as immigration agents," says Maywood Mayor Pro Tem Felipe Aguirre. "We would not have the city employees ask anybody who comes to city hall whether they have legal documents or not."

And while the immigration debate intensifies across the country, it’s business as usual back on the border, as agents try to turn back a human tide one person at a time.