By Roger McKinney
Apparent bipartisan support of immigration reform has immigrants and those who work with them hoping that Washington will do something this year.
A bipartisan group of U.S. senators, including Marco Rubio, John McCain and Dick Durbin, has proposed a reform bill, and President Barack Obama has announced a similar proposal. The president’s proposal includes continued strengthening of border security, cracking down on employers hiring illegal immigrants, earned citizenship for those here illegally and streamlining the legal immigration system.
The earned citizenship proposal would require those who are here illegally to undergo criminal background checks, pay taxes and a penalty, go through the legal immigration procedures, and learn English.
Obama has said that deporting 11 million illegal immigrants isn’t practical.
The Americans for Legal Immigration Political Action Committee in a news release cautioned federal lawmakers to move slowly with immigration reform legislation. It proudly noted its key role in defeating reform bills in 2006, 2007 and 2010.
Adolfo Castillo, of Joplin, is a Hispanic Republican who has run for a position in the Missouri House of Representatives. In the past, he served on the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Missouri Human Rights Commission.
“History is saying we need this,” Castillo said of immigration reform. “Both parties are saying we need this. I think it’s about time. History dictates this is something that needs to be done for the good of the country, and for the economy, for security and for the people living in the shadows.”
He said President George W. Bush’s proposal in his second term would have reformed immigration, but fellow Republicans rejected it. He said Bush and his adviser Karl Rove warned Republicans not to ignore Hispanics, but Republicans disregarded the advice.
In November, 71 percent of Latinos voted for Obama in the presidential election, after he had approved an executive order allowing young people who were brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents to stay here. Castillo said immigration reform is a matter of political pragmatism.
“I’m Republican,” he said. “I’m Hispanic. If you want the Hispanic vote, you’re going to have to work for it.”
Liz Pavon, 19, of Pittsburg, Kan., is vice president of Hispanics of Today, a Latino student group at Pittsburg State University. Her original hometown is Queretaro, Mexico. Her parents own a business in Pittsburg. Pavon said she’s feeling positive about the chances for immigration reform.
“I think it’s a wonderful opportunity to give people who have come here illegally a chance to become citizens,” Pavon said. “They’re not trying to take people’s jobs. They’re just trying to get a better opportunity, find a better life over here.”
Pavon, too, said political pragmatism is behind the momentum for reform.
“Politicians realized the power of the Hispanic vote in the presidential election,” she said.
Diana Batista, president of Hispanic Community, an immigrant liaison service in Springfield, said she thinks all immigrants are hopeful that immigration reform will become a reality this time.
“It also means much more revenue for the country in taxes and otherwise, and that’s something every state needs,” she said.
Suzanne Gladney is an immigration attorney who just retired from Legal Aid of Western Missouri. On Monday, she was in Pittsburg with Legal Aid as part of an immigration workshop, providing services to immigrants.
Gladney said immigration reform is needed for illegal immigrants, for communities and for employers. She said the reforms should be family-based and employer-based.
“There’s bipartisan support for the first time in a very long time, which is very, very encouraging,” she said.
Describing immigration law as a huge, complicated web, she said, “I think Congress has known for a very long time it’s needed attention.”
Penny Armstrong is president of Pittsburg Area Community Outreach, a sponsor of the immigration workshop at Pittsburg Memorial Auditorium. PACO began in 1996 as an organization to integrate immigrants into the community. She said it makes her happy to see immigrants she worked with as children become successful adults.
“National immigration legislation has been an urgent need,” Armstrong said, adding that the urgent need has existed for decades. She said she sees political momentum behind the reform proposals.
“We have some of the finest families you’ve ever met contributing to this community, and they can’t get out of the shadows,” she said.
Rosa e Tauayes De Sites, of Joplin, and Maggie Camacho, of Webb City, were at the immigration workshop seeking services and advice. Both said they think immigration reform would benefit immigrants and the nation.
“It’s very, very important for more opportunities,” Camacho said. “This moment is good for reforms.”
Area members of Congress so far aren’t taking a position on the reform proposals.
Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said in a recent conference call with Missouri reporters that he is waiting to see a bill. He said the first priority must be ensuring that the border is secure. He called the hiring desk at businesses “the other border” that needs to be controlled.
“I think neither proposal yet is anywhere close to being a final legislative product,” he said of Obama’s proposal and the bipartisan Senate proposal.
In a statement emailed to the Globe, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said the immigration system is broken. She said she would carefully examine the bipartisan proposal in the Senate.
“We need a solution that strengthens America’s economy and respects the rule of law,” she said. “I’ll take a hard look at this proposal over the next few weeks. Any bill that earns my support must build on our recent success in bolstering border security, punish employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants and include consequences for those who came here illegally.”
Keith Beardslee, spokesman for Rep. Billy Long, R-Mo., said Long thinks it’s important for legal immigrants to be able to come to the U.S. and that common-sense rules to prevent criminals from entering the country must be enforced.
“He will carefully review the Senate proposals when they are put into legislative text,” Beardslee said.
Annie Dwyer, press spokeswoman for Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Kan., said Jenkins would focus on reforms that allow people to immigrate legally and strong enforcement mechanisms to ensure against future illegal immigration.
“Congresswoman Jenkins recognizes our current immigration system is badly broken and needs to be fixed,” Dwyer said in an email. “She applauds the refocused effort to solve this difficult problem and looks forward to reviewing the legislation once it has been drafted.”