A group of Oklahoma public policy, business and faith leaders called for immigration reform Wednesday as part of a day of action that included 25 states.
Former Oklahoma House Speaker Kris Steele said the country’s existing immigration policies aren’t working, but Congress has not been willing to take action to fix them.
He called that unacceptable.
“Policy-makers have the responsibility to identify practical solutions to real-life problems. Being paralyzed by political fear is shameful,” Steele said. “The American people deserve better.”
Steele said the U.S. needs immigration policies that protect its borders, recognize human dignity and allow immigrants to add to the economy.
“A brisk debate about the best way to achieve these goals is the American way,” he said. “Our nation cannot afford another year of inaction on this issue. We are here today to call on Congress to step and do their job.”
Public wants reform
Steele and others who spoke at Wednesday’s event at the state Capitol said they were not confident Congress would act on immigration reform, even though a newly released poll indicates more than eight in 10 voters believe change is needed.
“We’ve got to try,” Steele said. “We’ve got to give it our best effort to do what we know is right.”
Robert Ross, who owns Interurban Restaurants, said undocumented workers fill a variety of entry-level positions and most are not paying taxes. He said the country needs some sort of guest worker program so local governments can collect that tax revenue to serve the community.
“I think the people who are here and working are vital in the economy,” Ross said.
Craig Parker, who owns Silver Star Construction in Moore, said his industry is facing a worker shortage that is stifling the economy and hurting tax collections. New legislation should allow more immigrants to legally enter the workforce, he said.
“We’re not taking jobs away from the workforce that is here now,” Parker said. “We’re talking about building the economy.”
Jake Fisher, who owns Bridges Advertising, said there are as many as 13 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. who could bolster the workforce.
The Rev. Lori Walke, associate pastor at Mayflower Congregational United Church of Christ, acknowledged the economic and security concerns caused by immigration, but she called it a humanitarian crisis since families are living in fear of being deported rather than dreaming of a better tomorrow.
She urged lawmakers to stop fear-mongering and craft legislation that reflects the faithful’s compassion for others.
‘Path to citizenship’
Immigration lawyer Douglas Stump said authorities should improve enforcement of existing laws, while legislators craft some kind of “path to citizenship” for undocumented immigrants.
Wednesday’s event, as well as a second one in Tulsa, was organized by a coalition of leading business and manufacturing groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, American Farm Bureau Federation and National Association of Manufacturers.