Religious, activist, business groups united in support of immigration reform

  • Article by: MARK BRUNSWICK , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 21, 2013 - 6:02 AM

As the U.S. Senate begins what promises to be protracted debate over the issue, groups with their own vested interests in supporting reform are far from sitting on the sidelines back home.

Clergy have staged quiet vigils at local offices of Minnesota’s two U.S. senators and now are focusing on House members. In a Cargill auditorium, the company’s chief executive officer joins a town hall meeting via satellite with D.C.’s influential. At a storefront radio station on Lake Street in Minneapolis, a Spanish-speaking activist urges listeners to come out of the shadows.

A rare alliance has emerged on an issue of mutual interest: supporting immigration reform.

“If you can get such strange bedfellows all on the same page for one issue, it’s a pretty good indication that the status quo is unacceptable,” said John Keller, head of the Minnesota Immigrant Law Center.

As the U.S. Senate begins what promises to be protracted debate over the issue and the House has yet to weigh in, groups with their own vested interests in supporting reform are far from sitting on the sidelines back home.

The groups have separate constituencies and interests. The Minnesota Business and Advocacy Immigration Coalition, which recently met with Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., includes an unlikely collection that includes the Minnesota AFL-CIO, Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, Minnesota Milk Producers Association, Minnesota Council of Churches and the Minnesota Nursing & Landscape Association.

Some guiding principles do unite them: a timely and affordable way for current immigrants and their families to gain a pathway to citizenship, accurate verification status of workers, and a simple and timely approach to the future flow of immigration.

Their methods run from high-tech to old-school.

One recent afternoon, Juve Meza was at the studios of the Spanish language radio station La Invasora in Minneapolis to make the case to the station’s listeners that this time, it might be different for them. Meza is a volunteer for a group called Navigate Mn, which helps immigrant students. Meza came to the United States from Mexico at age 15. He said he’s seen anti-immigrant sentiment grow in Minnesota and nationwide.

Now 25, he senses a turn, forced by the realities of demographics and results of the 2012 election.

On Sunday, a rally was held at Corcoran Park in Minneapolis. On Tuesday night, supporters gathered at El Colegio High School in south Minneapolis for a phone bank, using lists of registered voters tied to specific congressional district office.

To Meza, immigration reform is personal.

“I think it’s important that we take action so that youth feel safe in their schools, so that they can have a better future, so that our families get to stay intact,” he said. “Immigration reform will solve a lot of ills in my community. I know the positive contributions that I’ve made and others have made, and everyone should have that chance.”

Their opposition takes a more diffused approach.

Roy Beck, President of Virginia-based NumbersUSA, whose 2.5 million members advocate for lower immigration levels, said a visible absence of any opposing groups does not mean their voices are not out there.

“It’s truly grass-roots,” he said. “You are not going to see coalitions of that type. Instead what you are going to have are organic groups. What we are doing is connecting one-on-one with members of Congress. That’s something that happens on their telephone or on their computer.”

‘Enhanced our economy’

With satellite feeds and Twitter comments displayed on plasma screens next to him last week, Cargill CEO Greg Page was part of a town hall discussion that included U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., as part of the “Immigration Outside In” campaign from the National Association of Manufacturers. The group says a broken immigration system is responsible for 600,000 unfilled manufacturing jobs.

For Minnetonka-based Cargill, which operates massive food processing plants, the ability to verify that a worker is who he says he is has proved problematic. The government’s “E-Verify” system has error rates that are too high to be reliable and it needs to be improved, said Page, who tells the audience there is a more fundamental issue at stake, as well.

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