More than a dozen area pastors will gather in Washington D.C., today, as part of a national effort to encourage Congress to pass immigration reform before the end of the year.
Carl Ruby, executive director of WelcomeSpringfield.org, painted the issue as a moral obligation and said the country’s current laws are harmful to local families.
The local group will gather with hundreds of other pastors nationally in an event called “Pastors for Reform,” sponsored by the Evangelical Immigration Table. However, opponents argued action is unlikely this year because many Republican voters oppose making such sweeping reforms and because of skepticism that the laws would be enforced.
The issue was highlighted recently when Republican House Speaker John Boehner, whose district includes Springfield, drew criticism for comments he made at a Middletown Rotary Club meeting earlier this month. Boehner imitated his fellow House Republicans whining, and said his colleagues don’t have the appetite to deal with the issue because it’s too difficult.
Members of the Springfield group plan to meet today with Boehner, along with Congressmen Mike Turner, and U.S. Representatives Brad Wenstrup, Steve Chabot and Pat Tiberi.
The pastors will push for reforms they argue will improve national security, but also keep families intact and eventually provide a way for immigrants to earn citizenship — after they have paid fines and waited behind others who are currently trying to enter the country legally. Ruby’s group, WelcomeSpringfield.org, encourages immigrant workers to move to the area and start businesses to help revitalize the region’s economy.
“We believe that justice for people who are waiting for immigration reform has taken too long,” Ruby said.
While some reform is needed, the comprehensive proposal that was passed several months ago in the U.S. Senate will likely remain stalled in the U.S. House, said Jon Feere, legal policy analyst for the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, D.C. The non-profit agency advocates for tighter immigration controls.
Despite Boehner’s comments, voter opposition to the Senate proposals is the reason reforms have seen little support in the U.S. House, Feere said. He argued previous reforms have led to increased immigration, but little enforcement.
“That’s why I think it’s very unlikely that we’ll see any type of legislation prior to the mid-terms,” Feere said. “After the mid-terms it’s a whole different ballgame, but I think that most members of Congress who are up for reelection are not interested in having this debate any time soon.”
In addition, Feere argued members of the U.S. House have little confidence President Barack Obama will enforce new laws that are introduced.
Rep. Boehner does think current laws need to be reformed, said Kara Hauck, a spokewoman for Boehner’s office. But the Senate version will not be considered.
“Rep. Boehner believes our immigration laws need to be reformed, but he is strongly opposed to amnesty and has been clear that the massive immigration bill passed by the Senate will not be taken up by the House,” Hauck said. “He has also indicated that action in the House on the issue is unlikely until President Obama builds trust and demonstrates a commitment to the rule of law.’
Despite the opposition, Ruby said he is optimistic that momentum for reform is building.
Many immigrants want to become legal citizens, but the wait to do so is often more than 15 years, said Jose Salas, pastor of Emmanuel Iglesia Hispana Church in Springfield. His church hosted a press conference Monday during which Ruby spoke. In the meantime, the current laws mean many people who live or work in Springfield live in fear of being deported or detained, Salas said.
“They came here looking for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and it’s denied,” he said.
Staying with the story
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