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Elkhart County observers: Immigration reform prospects dim but not dead

Hopes for federal immigration reform are dimmer among Elkhart County advocates, but not completely extinguished.
Posted on Nov. 16, 2013 at 12:00 a.m. | Updated on Nov. 16, 2013 at 2:41 p.m.

Prospects for immigration reform have dimmed since the U.S. Senate passed a comprehensive plan last June to address the issue.

The U.S. House wasn’t as eager to take up the matter and hasn’t passed any corresponding legislation. Then the federal government shutdown in early October occurred. Then the debate over the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, intensified, dominating lawmakers’ attention.

Still, things aren’t necessarily dead. The Elkhart and Goshen chamber of commerce heads traveled to Washington, D.C., in late October pushing for action. Advocates last week rallied outside the Mishawaka office of U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski seeking reform.

Here are views from some Elkhart County locals who pay close attention to the issue:

Rosy Meza, Elkhart County immigration attorney: She doesn’t expect any action this year, with so few days left in the U.S. House calendar.

She holds out hope for 2014, though, but doesn’t foresee comprehensive reform. Rather, if anything happens, it’ll likely be one or two bills addressing narrow facets of immigration — maybe a DREAM Act-like measure providing a pathway to residency for younger undocumented immigrants and an accompanying measure toughening border security.

“There would have to be a counter-balance,” she said. That is, any measure providing relief to undocumented immigrants would have to be countered by a measure addressing security.

Bob Schrameyer, director of Citizens for Immigration Law Enforcement, or CILE: Time’s running out in 2013, and 2014 being an election year — when many lawmakers avoid controversy if they can — may bode against action then, he thinks.

More immediately, there’s the debate over the Affordable Care Act. “With the Obamacare debacle right now that’s going on, that’s pretty much consuming all the oxygen in the air,” said Schrameyer, whose Elkhart County anti-illegal immigrant group seeks stricter enforcement of immigration laws.

Even if the legislative agenda cleared up in Washington, the notion of amnesty, or a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, “is still a problem with a lot of people,” he said.

He wishes immigration laws already on the books were more strictly enforced, and thinks that would help remedy the situation without the need for a grand new set of laws.

Felipe Merino, Elkhart County immigration attorney: If anything happens, it’ll be in December or around March, after the bulk of the GOP primaries next year, he thinks.

If not in 2014, it’ll be “more than a few years (before the issue comes up). Who knows what happens then.”

The immigrant community, buoyed after the U.S. Senate passed a comprehensive reform measure in June, now feels discouraged.

“They feel no one cares about them,” Merino said. “Frankly, they’ve been criminalized by circumstances.”

Merino is part of a group, the Northern Indiana Coalition for Immigration Reform, that’s held various rallies pushing for reform that creates a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Group reps rallied outside Walorski’s Mishawaka office on Nov. 7.

Kyle Hannon, president of the Greater Elkhart Chamber of Commerce:If nothing happens in the near term, that doesn’t end things, Hannon thinks.

“Anyone with eyes in their head knows the issue’s not going away,” he said. If there’s no action, “You have to redevelop your tactics and figure out how to make it work.”

The local chamber, like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, backs a reform measure that includes a pathway to residency or citizenship and has pushed for movement on the issue for several years.




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