News Column

Pastor Says Hispanics Hope President Will Remember Their Votes

Jan 30, 2013

Ronnie Thomas

Neal Aguiar, pastor of House of Prayer in Decatur and Cullman, said people in his churches "are waiting and wondering" what's going to happen with their lives.

"We Hispanic people here in this country voted for President (Barack) Obama," he said. "We hope he will remember that and help us."

Aguiar said about 120 people attend his Decatur church and only about four families among two dozen have legal immigration status. In Cullman, he said "one or two families" of 100 church members are in legal status.

"Lots of Hispanic families in Decatur need legal papers," he said. "They need to go to work with the security they are not going to be arrested."

State House Majority Leader Micky Hammon, who sponsored and passed Alabama's illegal immigration statute deemed the nation's toughest, wasn't impressed with the reform blueprint.

"I think you've seen this same group of Republican (U.S.) senators who have pushed for amnesty in the past," said Hammon, R-Decatur. "We're all for immigration reform, but it needs to be the type that would close the border and prevent employers from hiring illegal immigrants. The amnesty part of their agreement is totally wrong-headed."

Hammon claims the blueprint "will be inviting more illegals into the country if they know they will be granted amnesty and a pathway to citizenship. We are rewarding lawbreakers instead of rewarding people who came to this country legally for the right reasons.

"Our only hope will be in the Republican-controlled House. We're certainly looking to their leadership to block the blueprint."

State Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, said he had not seen the proposal, only "bits and pieces" in the news media.

"Any meaningful immigration reform proposal must start with border security and strong enforcement of our employment laws with regard to immigrant labor," he said.

Alfredo Chavez, owner of La Estrella, a Mexican grocery on Central Parkway, said immigration reform is better for everyone.

"It will solve a lot of problems," he said. "Everybody who is legal is paying taxes, and they have good jobs in the community."

Don Thomas, of the North Alabama Hispanic Task Force of Cumberland Presbyterian Church, said immigration reform should have been accomplished years ago.

"My experience has been very difficult," he said. "It took about a five-year period to get someone in legally. They didn't agree on the procedure or what needed to be done. At that point, I became aware that we need a big overhaul of the immigration system."

Thomas said he understands many people don't like the word amnesty.

"But we've got to take care of the people that are here, who are good law-abiding people," he said. "I'm in favor of taking care of the amnesty problem in a favorable way. I heard (U.S. Sen. John) McCain say that we have curtailed the crossing of the border considerably. The problems now are the drug runners coming across."

Zayne Smith, immigration policy fellow at the Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, hailed the proposal.

"For me and Appleseed, it seems like it's a good starting point for the discussion of the need for comprehensive immigration reform," she said. "Obviously, we don't have a bill yet, so we don't know what the details of the ... package will look like. But their set of proposals looks promising."

Smith said there are positive points in the blueprint about the "Dreamers," undocumented youths who were brought here as minors, and details about family unity.

"They want to be able to work and provide for the economic stability of America," Smith said.


Distributed by MCT Information Services

Source: (c) 2013 The Decatur Daily (Decatur, Ala.)

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