Congress urged to take immigration stand

June 11, 2013

Time to act never better, panelists say

FRANKFORT — Immigration reform legislation currently making its way through Congress was the topic of a roundtable forum that brought community leaders from throughout the region to Clinton County Thursday afternoon.

Sponsored by the Bibles, Badges and Business for Immigration Reform network, the event attracted about 40 people to the Purdue Extension Learning Network of Clinton County to discuss Senate Bill 744 — the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act.

The bill, which is slated to hit the Senate floor the week of June 10, would revise current U.S. immigration law and give undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship. Notable changes in the bill include implementing a work Visa program for lower skilled immigrant workers, making the E-Verify system mandatory over a 5-year phase-in period and increasing the annual base cap on Visas for those with specialty occupations.

Leading the discussion was a group of five panelists with experience dealing with immigration issues. Among them was Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller who said citizens should demand that lawmakers make their positions on the immigration issue clear before the usual back and forth debate over the bill begins.

“In the old days we used to shake hands and say we got what we could and pass a bill, saying that it’s better than the current system,” he said. “Well today, we allow the members of Congress to vote against large measures like this claiming that they’re against something in the bill … Regardless of your views, you can find something to be against.

“We need to demand from the representatives of our state and the nation that they make a vote based on whether they support the current system or the reform measure so you don’t get the easy out … You have to own the current system if you’re not going to be for some reform on a global level.”

Angela D. Adams, immigration lawyer and Midwest regional coordinator for Bibles, Badges and Business, kicked off the event by providing attendees with a brief summary and status update on the bill.

She went on to talk about the time frame for reform, noting that even if the act is passed this fall, affected residents may have to wait more than a year before they can began benefiting from some of the bill’s revisions.

For Adams, the immigration discussion has been dominated by the extreme left and right in recent years, and one of the goals of the Bibles, Badges and Business network is to bring everyone else into the conversation.

“I’ve have seen the extreme … this is an effort to bring the conservation back to the middle,” she said. “It’s an effort to really highlight the sectors of people … who maybe don’t identify with those two extremes.”

Panelist Susan Brouillette of Lafayette Urban Ministry said that it’s crucial that lawmakers take action now, stating that this might be the best chance at passing a large immigration reform measure .

“For immigration reform to move forward, everyone has to get something out of it. This bill is a really good first attempt at doing that,” she said. “Congress had the opportunity right now to break fix our broken system … if they don’t pass all of these different things at one time, it’s not going to be revisited probably for another 10, 15 years. This bill that we see right now before us is a very good attempt to be responsive to all stakeholders.”

From a business standpoint, panelist Levi Huffman of Huffman & Hawbaker Farms in Tippecanoe County said the agriculture industry relies on a large, competitive workforce, and that immigrants often provide much of the manual labor required to run a successful operation.

By not giving these individuals a shot at citizenship and employment in the states, many farms nationwide would struggle to compete with the rest of the world.

“We are very strongly for border control because we want a strong border, and frankly, I think we have to know who’s here. We’re just in need of a large workforce, and if we don’t have this workforce, it’s basically going to run us out of business,” he said.

Huffman also responded to critics who say immigrants take American jobs; he said he has only had two Americans come look for seasonal work at his farm.

“The (American workers) worked for us for a very short time and they moved on,” Huffman said. “We need people that are willing to work, and frankly, we want them legal.”

Other topics discussed during the event included what kind of impact immigration have on the U.S. economy, how undocumented residents in support of the legislation can empower themselves and what those in support of reform can do to spread the word.

After about two hours of discussion, the meeting wrapped up with Frankfort’s Steve Mullen, speaking from the audience. The former teacher challenged his fellow residents to contact their representatives to let them know how they feel about the bill.

“And if they’re not willing to think about it, then we really need to consider changing those leaders, whether they be Democrat, Republican or Independent,” he said. “I think it’s very important that if we’re going to make this successful, we have to find people in those leadership roles that have open minds. If they’re not willing to work with us, then let’s find somebody who will.”