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Immigration Reform Champion Visits OR

June 27, 2011

WOODBURN, Ore. - Advocates for immigrants' rights in Oregon have had some setbacks in this year's legislature, but a U.S. Congressman is advising them to look at the bigger, national picture. Rep. Luis Gutierrez is in Woodburn today for a community meeting with immigrant families. The Illinois Democrat has championed comprehensive immigration reform.

On a cross-country tour that began this spring, Gutierrez says he's getting the message that Latino voters are looking ahead to 2012, and they're not happy with what they have seen so far from the White House.

"They're saying, 'We want the President of the United States to keep his word. We're disillusioned, we're disgruntled, we're saddened.' But almost in the same breath, they say, 'But we're ready to make up! We're ready to reconcile.' We really want to be with him. We just hope he can be our champion."

Opponents of comprehensive immigration reform see it as a form of amnesty. Gutierrez also supports the DREAM Act to allow children of immigrants to attend college in the U.S. if they were raised here. A similar bill at the state level, allowing children of Oregon immigrants to pay in-state tuition, was held in committee.

Gutierrez believes Oregon's restrictive driver's license law and law enforcement crackdowns on immigrants in some communities are having a chilling effect on families and employers.

"It's important that America understands that it's about people's lives - Washington state and Oregon both depend on immigrant labor - and that the immigrant community is working and contributing to the economy, and they're vital to the economy. Their voices should be heard."

This month, Homeland Security officials issued new guidelines for the "Secure Communities" program, in which local law enforcement shares information with federal immigration agents. They say the changes will prevent deporting people who do not have criminal records. Still, Gutierrez says some states have decided not to participate.

"These are friends and allies in states that elected this president. Yet, all of these friends are saying, 'This isn't working, because it's turning our police departments into immigration agents, and thereby dividing the community from the very population they're there to serve and protect."

Eight counties in Oregon participate in Secure Communities, and four of them have joined since April.

The meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. tonight at Woodburn High School, 1785 N. Front St., Woodburn.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR