Goshen News, Goshen, IN

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February 3, 2013

Locals glad to see movement toward immigration reform

GOSHEN — When President Barack Obama and a bipartisan group of Senators announced last week they have proposals on immigration reform, many Goshen residents were instantly interested.

One such person, Goshen immigration lawyer Thushanti Kamalakanth, said she sees a lot of potential in the plans being proposed by the president and the Gang of Eight, but acknowledged that the plans are still very much a work in progress.

“I think that done well and done together, these four elements, the key components of their plans, they will result in an immigration system that is orderly and humane,” Kamalakanth said. “It is not that detailed at this point, but it does talk about how immigrants who are already here will have some hope and some pathway to citizenship. It’s not going to be easy at all — it’s not an amnesty — but at least there is some plan so that the illegals here are able to work their way to citizenship.”

Kamalakanth was quick to note that she does not feel passage of any such reform plan will happen overnight, and encouraged those with a vested interest in the reform to be patient.

“If people are thinking comprehensive immigration reform is going to happen overnight, it’s not,” Kamalakanth said. “Will it happen within the next two years? Most probably. Within the next two months? I don’t think so. But what’s encouraging is that on both sides of the isle, the one thing they seem to be able to agree on is that we do have a broken system in terms of immigration. So I’m excited just from the fact that the conversation is getting started.”

Also feeling good about the proposed plans is Gilberto Perez Jr., an associate professor of Social Work at Goshen College and founder of Bienvenido, a program for newly arrived Latino immigrants offering resources in health, education and quality of life.

“I would affirm the direction the president and the senators are taking the proposal,” Perez said. “I think that there’s a need to have policies that prioritize human rights and labor rights and access to health care, and I think giving people access to legal status moves us in that direction.

“I’m not totally gleeful, but I am encouraged, because there’s a long road ahead for the senators and the president and the House of Representatives to come together on a comprehensive immigration law. But I think there’s hope.”

Like Kamalakanth, Perez said he feels strongly that at least some form of the proposed immigration reform plan will make it through, due in large part to the growing realization by Republicans that they need to be more immigrant-friendly if they hope to get elected in the future.

“I think the electorate this past November, the Latino electorate, sent a strong message to the president and the country that we want to be heard,” Perez said. “I think we’ve quickly seen how Republicans and Democrats started talking to each other a little more after seeing how a majority of Latinos voted. I think the decision by Latinos to get to the polls has really helped bring this topic to the forefront, so I think there is a strong sense of wanting to get this reform passed.”

Bob Schrameyer, Goshen resident and head of the group Citizens for Immigration Law Enforcement (CILE), isn’t quite so sure.

“It’s probably going to be a moot point down the road, because unless the border is secured, there’s not going to be any support in Congress, at least not from the House,” Schrameyer said. “And from what I’m hearing, Obama isn’t very keen on doing much more to secure the border. So unless that’s a part of it, I don’t think they’ll ever get any legislation passed.”

For his part, Schrameyer said he agrees with the call to toughen up on employers hiring undocumented immigrants. He even said he’d be OK with a path to citizenship for those undocumented immigrants already in the country. What he won’t support, he said, is an amnesty.

“I guess I could live with a pathway to citizenship, but it’s not going to fly to just give these 10 to 15 million illegals some sort of an amnesty program,” Schrameyer said. “There’s no easy solution to this thing. But again, the amnesty is really a no-no. I think a pathway to citizenship, yes, but the border has to be secured and they really need to crack down on employers. The starting point should really be border security. Everything else is secondary.”

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Three Goshen elementary schools — Chandler, Chamberlain and West Goshen — are providing free meals to all students during the school year as part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Community Eligibility Provision of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. Nearly 80 percent of students at Chandler, 89 percent of students at Chamberlain and 78 percent of students at West Goshen already qualify for free or reduced-price lunches based on their family income. How do you feel about the new lunch program?

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