Monday, January 04, 2010

LUPE organizing effort to back immigration reform

Jared Janes | The Monitor
December 30, 2009

SAN JUAN — Previous attempts to pass comprehensive immigration reform have collapsed under opposing demands from warring factions.

But when an immigration reform bill was introduced earlier this month, it drew broad support from a wide group of parties, said Rep. Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes. Ninety-three U.S. Representatives have thrown their name behind the bill and business leaders, agriculture groups and others are in favor of reform.

“There is a diversity of support that we’ve never had before” for immigration reform, the Congressman said Wednesday during a meeting with members of La Union del Pueblo Entero at the organization’s headquarters on Business 83 and Cesar Chavez Road. “This is going to be a national effort but we need all the support we can get.”

Hinojosa, one of 92 co-sponsors for the immigration reform bill introduced into the House of Representatives Dec. 15, asked members of LUPE to take an active role in pushing for reform next year, telling them, “We can’t do this without you.”

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Solomon Ortiz, D-Corpus Christi, creates a streamlined path to legalization for the nation’s estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants.

The bill seeks to legalize undocumented immigrants by requiring them to register with the federal government, pay a $500 fine, learn English, pass background checks and meet other requirements. They then are eligible for a six-year visa and then a green card.

The bill also sets out tougher penalties for employers who hire illegal workers, creates rules that require foreign investors given U.S. visas to create jobs in this country and adds restrictions on hiring foreign workers.

Multiple immigration reform bills are expected to be filed by early next year in advance of President Barack Obama’s pledge to take up the contentious issue next year.

But the rallying cry behind the effort has already begun.

Martha Sanchez, a community organizer with LUPE, the San Juan-based immigrant advocacy group, said she is asking all supporters of immigration reform to take an active role.

“We wanted this to be a grassroots effort,” she said. “The people who need this need to be involved with it.”

LUPE has taken an organizational role in connecting colonia residents and others who are interested in reform to ways they can help.

The group is setting up phone banks to call members of Congress asking them to support the bill, Sanchez said. It’s also hosting a community forum in mid-January and sending representatives to a state convention on reform in February.

Juanita Valdez-Cox, executive director of the group, said a concentrated push for immigration reform could prevent the effort from failing again.

“We know it’s a long haul,” she said. “But even if it’s a long haul, we need to be in it.”

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