Locals mixed on prospects for reform

Some in Elkhart County are skeptical about the prospects of U.S. lawmakers crafting an immigration reform plan.
Posted on July 27, 2013 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated on July 27, 2013 at 2:22 p.m.

ELKHART — The future of immigration reform is up in the air.

The U.S. Senate has proposed a reform package, but prospects for a plan out of the U.S. House remain sketchy.

Still, the immigrant community in Elkhart County remains hopeful, optimistic that some day a fix will be reached granting undocumented immigrants a means to stay here lawfully.

Lawmakers may end up stalling on the issue, and that would be cause for disappointment, said Edna Barrera. She’s a cashier at Supermarket El Paraiso, which caters to Hispanics, many of them here immigrants and many — legal and undocumented — focused on the immigration debate.

“But the hope won’t die,” she said, scooping beans into bags for sale at the store. “The objective is to keep fighting until our dream is reached.”

A pair of immigration attorneys from Elkhart County, Rosy Meza and Felipe Merino, hold out hope for a fix. Still, there seem to be many unknowns and questions over the specifics of any final legislation, if it even materializes.

“If it goes forth, it will go forth this year. If it fizzles, and it might fizzle out, it will fizzle out by September, October,” said Meza, who’s closely followed the reform debate.

Merino, participant in a group called the Northern Indiana Coalition for Immigration Reform, noted that House lawmakers recently brought up a proposal that would offer younger undocumented immigrants a potential means to remain legally in the country. It’s meant to help bridge the divide between House and Senate lawmakers, as described by the Los Angeles Times, but Merino would oppose such a route because it leaves out parents.

“We can’t hold family values if we don’t have parents and children together,” Merino said.

Bob Schrameyer, head of an anti-illegal immigrant group in Elkhart County, Citizens for Immigration Law Enforcement, or CILE, doesn’t foresee any action. He’s no fan of the U.S. Senate proposal, which contains a potential pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Beyond that, there are bigger priorities, like improving the economy and bolstering job creation.

“I don’t think anything’s going to come of it, quite frankly,” he said. “I hope the House buries it.”

If anything, Schrameyer would favor initial moves to beef up border security. The congressional discussion has centered on security and, more controversially, creation of some sort of means for undocumented immigrants to attain legal status here, citizenship even.

Meza and Merino, though, say reform should also contain a route to citizenship for the 11 million or so undocumented immigrants in the country.

“These people have to have a pathway into the light,” Meza said. “They have to be vested with citizenship and full humanity. What are you going to have, 11 million people in limbo?”


Whatever ends up happening in Washington, D.C., reform is a topic of conversation among Hispanics here, many of them immigrants, documented and undocumented.

“At any party or gathering, it’s discussed,” said Maria Navarro, another cashier at Supermarket El Paraiso. She added: “It may be hard, but we’re hopeful. The people, they want it to happen.”

Gricel Santos, originally from Mexico and now a waitress at the taqueria at El Rosal Supermarket in Elkhart, thinks the United States should create more feasible means for immigrants to come here legally, some sort of application process. Undocumented immigrants come to work, to support their families.

“If it’s a question of money, charge them,” Santos said.

She’s doubtful lawmakers will end up doing anything, however. Likewise, she’s doubtful lack of congressional action, if that’s the end result, would prod illegal immigrants into leaving the country, even if it means continued uncertainty and life on the margins of U.S. society.

“They’d still be afraid, but I don’t think they’ll return to Mexico,” Santos said.

Follow reporter Tim Vandenack on Twitter at @timvandenack.

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