De León's statement brought instant applause from the crowd gathered at Tuesdays discussion panel in the Black Ballroom on comprehensive immigration reform, She was one of four the presiding speakers at the panel, which addressed current movements in local, state and federal governments toward immigration reform.
An estimated 11 million undocumented workers now live in the United States, many of whom reside in Minnesota.
"Most immigration policies are formed at a federal level because it is a federal concern," said Loan Huynh, a panelist from the American Immigration Lawyers Association. However, the past year has seen more discussion about immigration at the state level.
All four panelists, including Northfield Chief of Police Gary Smith and Rice County attorney Paul Beaumaster, agreed that immigration is important to Americas survival. However, undocumented workers can be easy targets for business people who take advantage of immigrants fear of deportation, forcing undocumented workers to work longer hours for less pay than their citizen co-workers to increase their own profit.
According to federal law, crossing the border without proper documentation is not a criminal, but rather a civil violation: one faces a lawsuit rather than commits a crime. However, legislation is in motion to change this policy, making illegal immigration a criminal act.
Beaumaster highlighted local immigration problems. In a recent Northfield drug repossession, 11 members of the violent MS13 gang were apprehended. All were non-citizens.
Interstate Highway 35 provides a pathway for many immigrants to unconsciously bring along the gang and drug violence that inspires their move in the first place.
According to Smith, without the help of residents who "may or may not have documented status in the United States, we could not have apprehended these people. Legislation that would require us to check on documentation status would be a hazard to public safety."
Others are fighting for the right of immigrants to become naturalized citizens.
"Many families move here, work here, and establish a community here. They work in hard conditions and are a necessity for the survival of our economy," De León said.
All four panelists called for humane, sensible reform. "We all agree that our immigration policies are broken," Huynh said. He stressed the need to "respect the dignity of our workers and do not merely deport or make illegal eleven million residents of this country."