ELKHART — The U.S. Senate has passed an immigration reform proposal.
Things in the U.S. House, meanwhile, remain in flux
With that in mind, a national immigrant advocacy group pushing for reform is hosting a roundtable discussion in Elkhart this week, hoping to raise public debate and prod U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski on the matter. It’s one of at least four planned gatherings across the state and many more geared at lawmakers all across the country, meant to keep immigration reform efforts in Congress from falling to oblivion.
“From everything we’ve heard, the time is now. If reform doesn’t happen this year, it probably won’t happen for many years,” said Angela Adams, an immigration attorney from Indianapolis who’s helping coordinate the Elkhart gathering. “I think this year is prime time for immigration reform.”
Other meetings are planned through August for Columbus, Lafayette and Fort Wayne, directed, in part, at the House members who represent the communities, Reps. Luke Messer, Todd Rokita and Marlin Stutzman, all Republicans.
The gathering here Thursday, Aug. 22, is sponsored by a group dubbed the Bibles, Badges and Business for Immigration Reform network, an initiative of the Washington, D.C.-based National Immigration Forum. It will be held at the Greater Elkhart Chamber of Commerce, and speakers will include reps from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Catholic Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.
The issue is particularly important in the business sector here in Elkhart County in light of the undocumented immigrant population and need for workers to fill open spots, according to Kyle Hannon, president of the Elkhart chamber and another participant Thursday. “How do they fill those jobs and how do they do it legally?” said Hannon.
Hannon touted a four-pronged approach to immigration reform. Any overhaul should entail tighter border security, creation of a visa program that permits entry of needed workers from abroad, improvements to the federal E-Verify system and a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. E-Verify is the federal system that businesses use to confirm the migratory status of employees.
“There’s movement. Let’s not stop it,” said Hannon, alluding to debate that led to the Senate reform plan in late June. “It may not be there now, but we certainly want to work to a solution.”
The feds, he also said, are central in any resolution. Immigration reform is something that individual states can’t effectively address because such an approach would result in a patchwork of plans.
‘OPEN AND HONEST’ DISCUSSION
Adams said organizers of the nationwide series of meetings want to make sure lawmakers, particularly House members, take up the issue after the summer recess ends and Congress goes back into session on Sept. 9. She hopes the House comes up with a plan to counter the Senate proposal and the two bodies can work together to come up with some sort of compromise proposal.
The Democrat-led Senate approved a comprehensive plan that calls for tighter border security and a potential means for undocumented immigrants to remain here legally and even attain U.S. citizenship. The GOP-led House has been more reluctant in addressing the matter, with some calling for a piecemeal approach — tackling immigration-related issues one at a time, not via one overarching plan.
Walorski, a Republican from Elkhart, has been relatively quiet on the immigration issue and Adams said she isn’t sure of the lawmakers’ stance. In a statement to The Elkhart Truth in early July, Walorski said she hoped for “open and honest” discussion, also citing the importance of addressing border security.
Aside from lawmakers, Adams hopes the discussion spurs debate here in Elkhart County. “We’re trying to get the constituents speaking, the voices in Elkhart,” she said.
Thursday’s meeting is scheduled from 10 to 11:30 a.m. and will be in the boardroom at the Elkhart chamber, 418 S. Main St. The public is invited, according to Adams.