By Christopher Smith
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.”
Statement from Sen. Saxby Chambliss
“Legal immigration is the foundation of America. Almost every American can point to the moment when their ancestors came to America to forge a better life for themselves and their families. It is with this strong tradition of acceptance that we must look at immigration reform. Any immigration bill must first secure the borders, and then make the path for legal entry smoother. We had a real shot here to do this right. Unfortunately, this bill did not include the verifiable border security piece. Additionally, the agricultural program under this bill had some major flaws.
“As someone from the heart of ag country in south Georgia, I care deeply about making sure our farmers and ranchers are able to access a stable and legal workforce when sufficient American workers cannot be found. I am disappointed and frustrated my amendments that would have fixed these problems were not considered. Unfortunately, in the end this was a bill I simply could not support.
“I hope the House can fix some of the problems my colleagues and I have identified in this bill. We still have an opportunity to do this in the right way once and for all.”
Statement from Sen. Johnny Isakson
“I believe that immigration reform is an important issue that our country must address — that’s why I voted to begin debate on this bill several weeks ago. Although this bill is in some ways an improvement from the immigration bill in 2007, I had hoped that the Senate would produce a bipartisan bill that truly solved the many issues plaguing our nation’s outdated immigration system.
“I have said for many years and from day one of this debate that border security is my top priority, and I am disappointed that SB 744 does not ensure true border security. I voted against SB 744 today because it contained several waivers and loopholes that could allow those who are here illegally to obtain green cards before our nation’s borders are truly secure.
“The Senate vote today is just the beginning of the process. I look forward to seeing what the House produces on immigration reform, and I will continue to work with my colleagues to fix our nation’s broken immigration system.”