How Immigration Reform Has Changed Us Once Before

It was when Hernandez Luna enrolled in political science and psychology classes at the University of Houston in 1995 that her undocumented status became an issue. Anti-immigrant rhetoric was gaining traction, and some organizations started restricting scholarships to citizens only. To get the financial assistance she needed, she had to become a citizen.

She and her family began the process. She recalled being terrified that the immigration official who interviewed her had the power to decide her fate.

She passed, despite her jitters, and naturalized at 18. In the spring of 1998, she interned in Rep. Jessica Farrar's (D-Houston) office. Farrar liked what she saw and kept the ambitious young woman on staff. Hernandez Luna went on to work for Rep. Joe Moreno (D-Houston) and managed his successful reelection campaign in 2000. A stint with the Peace Corps in South Africa followed, and then law school at the University of Texas. She graduated with her JD in 2004, passed the bar, landed her first job and left politics behind.

Then a car accident killed Moreno in May 2005, leaving his district without representation. Moreno's people came calling, and after just eight months at her law firm, Hernandez Luna took an unpaid leave of absence to run for office in a special election. She was 26.

"It's not something I had planned on doing," she said. "I thought maybe I would later in life, but not then."

In late 2005, she became the youngest female legislator in the Texas House of Representatives. She's been in Austin, and in politics, ever since.

"I enjoy it. I enjoy public service," she said.

Although she does not practice law full-time as she envisioned, she helps create the law when the House is in session. She spends her days at a firm in Houston using the legal system to help others when it's not. Life is hectic but happy: She's in Austin during the week and then back to Houston to meet with constituents on the weekends. She makes the trips with her husband, Gregory Luna, also a lawyer and the son of former Texas senator and MALDEF founder Greg Luna, and their 11-month-old son, Gregory Eli.

Her mother no longer works -- an injury several years ago prevents that -- and her father is now a shift worker at a refinery. Her sister has an associate degree in accounting and lives nearby. They, like Ortega's family, have all made lives for themselves in the United States.

Hernandez Luna thinks the political climate is more ripe for immigration reform than it was even a year ago. In 2011, Republican colleagues were proposing anti-immigrant measures and throwing around aggressive rhetoric to please constituents. Hernandez Luna had had enough. She took to the House floor to "put a face on the issue."

"Immigration and all that it encompasses is very personal for me because I was an undocumented immigrant," Hernandez Luna said at the time. "You may prefer to use the word illegal alien, but I'm not an alien."

"I wanted them to know that when they were talking about immigrants, they were talking about me," she said.

The ramifications of any immigration reform today are likely to be more widespread than those of IRCA in the '80s, but they are difficult to predict exactly.

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