Local News

June 28, 2013

‘We are not criminals’

Locals fast to support Senate immigration bill Rep. Graves opposes

Avery Lara said her family has struggled emotionally and financially since her father was deported to Mexico several years ago.

“It was pretty bad,” she said. “We were very close and I haven’t seen him since.”

So joining several locals in fasting as part of the National Fast to Say Not One More Deportation campaign is “personal,” the 15-year-old said.

The fast began locally on Thursday and is set to end Saturday with a candlelight vigil at 6:30 p.m. at the Coalition of Latino Leaders (CLILA) office at 1247 E. Morris St. in Dalton.

Lara said she hopes going three days without food will raise awareness about the immigration reform bill the U.S. Senate approved Thursday by a 68 to 32 vote. Georgia’s two Republican senators, Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, voted against the bill.

The 1,200-page bill intends to overhaul immigration laws, offer a path to legal citizenship for 11 million documented illegal immigrants and increase security on the U.S. border. It is expected to go before the GOP-controlled House next where significant opposition is anticipated.

U.S. Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ranger, said he opposes the bill.

“Our broken legal immigration system needs fixing,” Graves said in a statement. “But we have to secure the border, enforce our immigration laws and ensure that we do not repeat the failed policies of the past. The House has been working on its own legislation and it seems clear that we will not be voting on the Senate bill.”

What the House legislation will look like isn’t clear.

“The House Judiciary Committee is in the process of working on several immigration bills,” said John Donnelly, a spokesman for Graves. “But none have been scheduled to be considered by the full House at this time.”

Lara said she’s concerned by opposition to the Senate bill in the House.

“I would just tell them (House leaders) it’s time for reform,” she said. “It’s time for something just and fair, not something that takes moms and dads away. That’s not a good law. It’s frustrating because the Senate is putting out all these ideas and it could just fall apart in the House. And then — nothing happens.”

Lara isn’t the only one who is concerned. The Greater Dalton Chamber of Commerce sent letters on Thursday to Graves, Chambliss and Isakson, signed by President and CEO Brian Anderson, stating, “The Executive Board of the Greater Dalton Chamber of Commerce and its 800-plus member businesses support comprehensive immigration reform and the key elements of Senate Bill 744. Although the current proposal is not perfect, it is a substantial compromise and offers a better solution than allowing a broken system to continue.

“The United States Congress has a financial and moral obligation to pass bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform. It is time for this issue to be resolved.”

América Gruner, CLILA coordinator, said if there isn’t a resolution in the coming months it could be years before immigration reform is talked about again.

“How many years will pass before there is reform?” she asked. “How long? It’s time for us to get involved and make calls. Make your legislator know how you feel.”

Some in the community have said illegal immigrants are a drain on the local economy and take jobs from legal citizens, something Gruner said she disagrees with.

“We are not criminals,” she said. “People in this community think we’re criminals. They say we are gang leaders and rapists and violent. And we’re not. They say this bill is a form of amnesty. It’s not. We’re important to the economy. There are a lot of fallacies out there that people believe, so they’re against immigration reform when they don’t even know what is happening.”

Gruner added that the reform bill would make illegal immigrants taxpaying citizens which would benefit the local economy.

“Though we already do pay the same taxes,” she said. “We pay taxes on what we buy. We even have tax IDs.”

An Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) is used by the Internal Revenue Service for some workers so they can pay taxes even if they don’t have a Social Security number.

Whatever happens in Washington, Lara says lawmakers need to keep families in the forefront.

“Focus on the families,” she said. “Deportation hurts them. It’s really sad. All the kids can’t see their mom or dad anymore. Reform would help them stay here and help the economy.”

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