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Panel discusses immigration reform

Katie Perry | Wednesday, April 26, 2006

On a day when President George W. Bush convened with a bipartisan group of senators to discuss the hotly debated immigration reform bill, panelists at Notre Dame held their own forum Tuesday to address legislative initiatives and the possibility of such reform in the United States.

Entitled “The Immigration Debate: Issues and Prospects,” the event centered on the contention surrounding recent congressional proposals for immigration reform.

At today’s White House meeting, the president showed support for a package that would attempt to tackle the status of the nearly 12 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States. Proponents of the bill – which would also create a guest worker program – said they would like to revive the issue on the Senate floor as early as Memorial Day.

Speaking at the Hesburgh Center for International Studies, Rodolfo “Rudy” Monterrosa, a local attorney who specializes in criminal and immigration law, said though there is no perfect answer to the problem, lawmakers should not be hasty when drafting immigration reform legislation.

“I believe the time to reform this nation is way past due,” Monterrosa said. “We have twelve million people here who are seeking a better way of life, [but lawmakers] need to do their research because [the laws] are not only going to impact those 12 million individuals.”

Timothy Ready, director of research for the Institute for Latino Studies, presented statistics from the Pew Hispanic Center that said undocumented immigrants involve seven million families, whose members total 15 million in sum. Roughly two-thirds of children in these families are born in the United States.

Allert Brown-Gort, associate director of the Institute for Latino Studies, said current immigration law is “seriously out of whack from reality” and tends to “promote an atmosphere of law breaking.”

“To me the state of immigration law is starting to look more and more like the law that gave us prohibition, he said. “The largest problem with that law is that it was so seriously out of synchronicity with reality.”

Brown-Gort said the undocumented immigrants who cross the border to secure jobs and a better life for their families are needed.

“Immigrants aren’t taking jobs away from Americans, they’re just doing jobs that no one else wants,” said Father Daniel Groody, director of the Center for Latino Spirituality and Culture in the Institute for Latino Studies. “The problem is not only with the immigrants – it’s also with their employers.”

Groody said throughout history immigrants have been valued for their capacity to provide cheap labor, but have rarely received adequate protection of their basic rights.

“[The enforcement of immigration law] occurs often enough so people will accept poor conditions, but never enough to really hurt the employers who are exploiting these vulnerable workers,” said assistant professor of anthropology Karen Richman.

Though some employers are “unscrupulous and greedy,” others are merely “trying to remain competitive,” Brown-Gort said.

Richman said recent protests – including an April 10 demonstration in South Bend – suggest a “tremendous galvanizing moment” for immigration law activists.

“What happened at the march [in South Bend] is what we’re seeing happen throughout the country,” Monterrosa said. “We came out of the woodwork … and it was so beautiful.”

Ready said “a sleeping giant has awoken with the very large number of folks who have mobilized” – undocumented immigrants and U.S. citizens alike. Individuals from Rwanda, Nigeria and Bosnia also participated in the South Bend event, Monterrosa said.

Groody said he hopes protests lead to “a greater sense that there is something wrong here that needs to be changed.” Americans must “cross the borders of [their] own minds and hearts” when contemplating the issue of immigration.

“When it comes to reform, there’s a lot to be said about the politics, but I’d like to see all of us have the capacity to go beyond our [own] needs and desires,” he said.

“We have the opportunity at this University to bring facts, knowledge and learning and to have facts form a very strong value perspective,” Ready said. “This is a Catholic university and let’s think about all the values involved in the current immigration issue.”

Notre Dame’s Institute for Latino Studies, Kellogg Institute for International Studies and Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies co-sponsored the event.