Local religious, business and law enforcement leaders met Aug. 6 at the Glendale Chamber of Commerce to discuss immigration reform and urge leaders to support the immigration bill that has passed the Senate.
Representatives from the offices of Congressmen Trent Franks and David Schweikert were in attendance at the meeting.
“The point of today was to discuss immigration reform with representatives of Congressmen Franks and Schweikert to see where they stand on this issue,” said Adam Estle, executive director of Lifebridge Community Alliance. “We wanted to show the congressmen where Bibles, Badges and Business (BBB) are coming from on this issue.”
BBB is a national coalition of faith, law enforcement and business leaders working together to forge a new consensus on immigrants and America. It is also a member of the National Immigration and Action Fund.
“We are obviously in favor of comprehensive immigration reform, and the coalition is on the same page in favor of that,” Estle said.
The immigration bill that passed in the Senate would allow any undocumented immigrant who arrived in the United States prior to Dec. 31, 2011 and who hasn’t committed a felony (or three misdemeanors), holds a job and pays a $500 fine and back taxes to immediately gain the status of “registered provisional.”
After six years, they would have to renew the status, which is dependent on maintaining a steady work history, having a clean criminal record, and paying another $500 fine. Four years later they could apply for permanent residency (green card).
“It is a tipping point moment as more people are rallying around this issue,” said Pastor Gary Kinnaman of World of Grace Church of Phoenix. “The Senate bill that passed will make everyone that wants to become citizens who haven’t started the process; they will have to wait in line behind those already in the system.”
There are a reported 11 to 15 million undocumented workers in the country, based on a study by the Center for Immigration Studies done in 2008.
“These people live in the shadows in our country, and the Bible asks us to welcome a stranger, and they definitely qualify as that in our society,” said Estle. “For us it is about the people first and foremost, about immigrants and not immigration.”
A report in 2010 by the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) put the cost of accommodating immigrants in the US at near $113 billion per year – an average of $1,117 for every household in America.
“No matter which way you go on the subject, there are costs,” said Kinnaman. “The cost of deporting (11-15 million people) would be astronomical. There are costs for everything and that is the challenge of government to find the money to do the things that are most important.”
Opponents to the report by FAIR point out that it is estimated that undocumented workers add $245 billion in gross domestic product (GDP) to the economy and account for 2.8 million jobs.
“Most undocumented workers pay taxes, but they have false identities – not to steal anyone’s identity but just to work – but they garner no benefits from those taxes,” Kinnaman said. “Right now the system is so complicated and so expensive that everybody needs a shorter cut to citizenship.”
The main exception in the bill is that those undocumented who entered illegally before the age of 16, graduated high school, and have been in the United States for at least five years – they would have a quicker path by applying for citizenship after five years.
Participants in the meeting wanted to make sure that while they want immigration reform, they are not looking for just open borders.
“We would like to see a secure border, but also laws that protect migrant labor, e-verify and some path for citizenship,” said Kinnaman.
While the leaders highlighted the importance of immigration for the congressmen’s representatives, they know that they and their constituencies will support lawmakers who act on immigration reform.
“It was a positive meeting and civil discussion and everyone got a chance to express their views,” Estle said. “This is a human issue and that is the big point for us.”
Joe Sigg, government relations director at the Arizona Farm Bureau, summed up the meeting.
“Immigration reform is a vital issue for Arizona agriculture,” Sigg said. “As well, respect for law and recognition of a truly broken system demands that we fix this issue in a complete and comprehensive manner. I respect the diversity around this table and am hopeful efforts such as this will lead to meaningful reform. This is an issue that is as large as it is local.”