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

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

“What have these people done that has harmed us?” he asked. “They’ve enhanced our economy, they’ve improved our competitiveness, they take care of our elderly. How are we going to treat people who have contributed so much for so many years?”

For months, a bipartisan group in the House has pledged to unveil its version of a bill to no avail. Sticking points like concerns over border security and criticism of amnesty for lawbreakers remain for opponents. Polls show support for reform but concerns about porous borders. But amid it all, there has been little local concerted resistance to match the fervor of the groups that have emerged to support reform. There are divisions in these coalitions, but none currently appear significant enough to fracture them. The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, for instance, supports higher numbers for a proposal to provide temporary visas for low-skilled workers. The program, known as the W-Visa, would be limited to 20,000 visas the first year and grow to 75,000 by the fourth year.

The chamber supports even higher numbers of W-Visa workers. But some groups, such as organized labor, have balked. Bill Blazar, senior vice president of the Minnesota chamber, said he does not anticipate the issue being a deal-breaker as the issue is debated in the Senate and eventually the House.

The Minnesota Chamber has rarely engaged itself so aggressively in federal issues (the only other recent issue was health care), and Blazar said that has not gone unnoticed among the state’s congressional delegation. With both senators favoring reform, the group has begun approaching some Minnesota members of the House, assuring them the Chamber can provide business support within their districts where the debate might turn tough. Rep. Erik Paulsen, R-Minn., for instance, has been a focus of attention for the Chamber.

“This legislation is really important to the development and growth of Minnesota’s economy,” Blazar said.

In May, 35 members of the Interfaith Coalition on Immigration, a partnership of faith-based organizations, held a vigil at the office of Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., on the eve of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s vote on the bill. They have concerns that the costs associated with fines and back taxes might be prohibitive for struggling immigrant families. Potential costs associated with paths to citizenship or permanent resident status have been estimated to be $4,000 per person or more. The group has quietly shown up at the offices of several members of the Minnesota congressional delegation. It uses e-mail blasts to keep others informed of new developments.

For the Interfaith Coalition, efforts have been rooted more in their faith than on the bottom line.

“Immigrants coming right now are to us signs of hope for our nation,” said the Rev. John Guttermann, pastor of the United Church of Christ in New Brighton and a member of the coalition. “That they want to come, that immigrants are here, is something that renews our own sense of faith and value in this country.”

 

Mark Brunswick • 612-673-4434

 

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