Hispanic chamber issues policy
Arizona Daily Star
4/8/ 2006

 By Thomas Stauffer

Immigration platform opposes repatriation, new border fence

Tucson, Arizona | Published: http://www.azstarnet.com/allheadlines/123695

Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce weighed in on immigration reform Friday with a white paper that advocates reforms including a path to citizenship for undocumented workers.

With a few exceptions, the Hispanic chamber's white paper is similar in many respects to a policy statement issued last week by the Tucson Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and a soon-to-be-released statement from the Southern Arizona Chamber Alliance, said Mich Coker, chair of the public policy committee for the Hispanic chamber.
According to its white paper, the Hispanic chamber:
● Opposes legislation that excessively punishes employers who hire undocumented workers until a dependable, foolproof verification system is in place;
● Opposes mandates to require guest workers to return to their home countries before becoming eligible to apply for legal status;
● Opposes construction of a new fence along the Mexican border;
● Supports federal reimbursement of state and local expenses relating to immigration reform, including enforcement, education and health care;
● Supports changing the federal immigration law to allow states to determine which students should qualify as residents for postsecondary educational benefits, including in-state tuition.
Key to the chamber's white paper is the overriding theme that the federal government needs to deal with the realities of undocumented immigrants and their place in economy, said Tomás León, president of the Hispanic chamber.
"The reality is they have become part of the economic engine of this state and our country," León said. "A policy that would send undocumented workers back would be a detriment to the small-business community of this state and our country."
The reality of building a 50-foot fence at the border to deter illegal immigration is that a "company that builds a 51-foot ladder is going to do a great business," he said.
The Tucson Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce released its own policy statement last week, one that mirrors the Hispanic chamber's stance in opposing any sanctions against employers until there are sufficient verification tools to identify undocumented workers.
Their policy statement also includes opposing the mass deportation of undocumented workers, though it stops short of allowing them a path to citizenship, said Jack Camper, president of the Tucson Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce.
"What we favor is everybody coming out of the shadows, paying a fine and becoming part of a legal guest-worker program," Camper said. "That would not necessarily take away their right to apply for citizenship, but what it does say is you can be part of a guest-worker program and get in line with everybody else for citizenship."
The problem with the existing pathway for citizenship is that is it so overwhelmed and underfunded that people legally applying for citizenship in 1999 are still awaiting processing, León said.
"We have too much bottlenecking in our immigration policy right now and that bottleneck is causing overflow and encouraging people to go through a process outside the legal system," he said.
If undocumented workers identify themselves, pay a fine, learn English, and go through citizenship courses, they should be eligible for citizenship, Leon said. Such a process is a far cry from amnesty, which amounts to giving undocumented workers a "free ride," León said.
"This process holds them accountable for having been here and not having gone through the local process," he said. "It's a pathway to legal citizenship has some pretty high consequences that have to be paid out, and I think it's responsible and accountable."
Officials from more than 10 different chambers of commerce, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, met Wednesday in Nogales, Sonora, to discuss immigration reform, said Marcelino Varona, of the Nogales-Santa Cruz Chamber of Commerce.
"It was a historic meeting and it was very productive, and a press release from the Southern Arizona Chamber Alliance will should be coming out very soon as a result of that meeting," Varona said.
● Contact reporter Thomas Stauffer at 573-4197 or tstauffer@azstarnet.com.