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Afternoon Plenary: Latinos Leading Immigration Reform

Click on the photo below for video highlights from HITN.


Monday afternoon's plenary presented a panorama of the challenges of immigration reform. In opening the session Maria Elena Salinas, Univision Noticiero anchor, expressed the urgent need to change the tone of the debate to one that is more civil. She cited a New York Times editorial that called immigration reform an "all purpose explosive" and noted the number of state and local governments that have attempted to take immigration reform into their own hands.

Janet Rogozinski of The Matt Foundation called for comprehensive immigration reform that considers the affect on both sides of the border. "Mexico is losing its demographic advantage, with 150,000 talented Mexicans leaving each year," she said. She suggested a micro lending program and other initiatives to help spur economic development in Mexico.

Lydia Tamez, associate general counsel of Global Migration for Microsoft, expressed concern that immigration reform considers the importance of the U.S. ability to attract the best and brightest from around the world. She noted that the United States is not currently producing enough science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) students to meet our needs. "There are always other smart people from around the world that we want to attract," she said. "We don't want to lose talent to other countries." Among the concerns she noted, it can currently take up to 10 years to get a green card to work in the United States.

Alejandro Mayorkas, director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, placed emphasis on employers who are taking advantage of the undocumented workers in the workforce. While noting that immigration reform will be no easy task to accomplish, he says it has to be realistic and practical. "We need immigrants to register, pay taxes, and learn English."

Celia Muñoz, deputy assistant to the president and director of Intergovernmental Affairs at the White House, said that immigration reform has to produce a policy that works-it's not an issue of tough versus generous. She said that Janet Napolitano asked her to get the job done with an approach that works. She also noted that President Obama is a realist. "This is tough stuff," she said, "that has spread to other policy debates." She said that Alejandro Mayorkas is working to make the United States more welcoming to immigrants and to address the detention issues. "We have to enforce the law," she said, "but how we enforce it matters." She also stressed the importance of focusing on employers. She said that it's hard to do enforcement well and that there are a lot of heart breaking situations to deal with. 

The only Hispanic in the Senate, Sen. Robert Menendez (NJ), said that we need to pass immigration reform now. He said that it will become increasingly difficult to pass in the last half of the administration. He noted that the Latino community has suffered a 40 percent increase in hate crimes recently, according to the FBI. He noted that it has become a problem not only for undocumented Latinos but that some U.S. citizens and legal residents have been detained because of how they look. He said that 91 percent of voters agree that comprehensive immigration reform would help all tax payers-particularly during the recession-by increasing the tax base. He noted that President Obama has promised comprehensive immigration reform and that he intends to hold the president's "feet to the fire."

Rep. Luis Gutierrez (IL-4) said that it is un-American to divide and separate families as a result of immigration policy. He also expressed concern that tens of thousands of women are being sexually exploited in the workforce everyday because of their immigration status. "OSHA is doing a great job reducing the incidence of injuries and death in the workplace, but not for Latinos." He said that Latinos need the same protections as all other workers-even undocumented workers. He noted that enforcement drives undocumented workers deeper and makes them even more vulnerable to abuse.



Click on this link for video highlights from HITN.

Click here to check out the Afternoon Plenary photo gallery.