Local advocates hold rally for immigration reform

Posted on Sept. 7, 2013 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated on Sept. 7, 2013 at 6:32 p.m.

ELKHART — Local immigration reform advocates and community members gathered Saturday for a rally celebrating the passage of an immigration reform bill in the U.S. Senate and to push for a similar bill from the House of Representatives.

The Northern Indiana Coalition on Immigration Reform held a rally and street fair on Saturday afternoon, Sept. 7, at Elkhart’s Civic Plaza.

South Bend immigration lawyer Felipe Merino, of the Northing Indiana Coalition for Immigration Reform, said Congress should focus on immigration and other problems within the country before intervening in foreign issues.

“Our nation has ADHD,” Merino said. “We go from topic to topic, crisis to crisis and we need to return the focus to immigration reform.”

“We want to fight human rights abuses in other countries but we’re not talking about human rights abuses in this country,” Merino said, referencing the ongoing debate about American intervention in Syria.

Merino said the coalition wants to see immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and encouraged attendees to call Congresswoman Jackie Walorski and ask her to support immigration reform in the House of Representatives.

Representatives from local business and labor groups also attended to show their support for immigration reform.

Tony Flora, president of the North Central Indiana AFL-CIO Council, said this is the rare occasion where he and Kyle Hannon, president and CEO of the Greater Elkhart Chamber of Commerce, find themselves on the same side of an issue.

“We want to see these people brought out of the shadows and made full Americans,” Flora said.

He added that this will allow them to make better wages and improve their quality of life.

Hannon said local businesses want to see immigration reform with a sensible work permit program and an eVerify system they can trust.

He said “unscrupulous employers” undercut competitors by employing undocumented workers and pay them less than minimum wage. Companies that obey labor laws and pay employees the minimum wage cannot compete with these practices.

Nelson Kraybill, pastor of the Prairie Street Mennonite Church, reminded the crowd that the Bible repeatedly references immigration and travel and that many of the Bible’s biggest characters, including Jesus Christ, were immigrants.

The rally also included free food and an awards presentation for a poster contest for Elkhart County children.

Merino said children in Elkhart County schools were asked to create posters around the theme “America: A Nation of Immigrants.” Merino gave cash prizes for the top three posters.

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