Members of Longview’s tea party group questioned national immigration legislation Tuesday at a public forum that drew voices from both sides of the contentious issue.
The Longview forum, held by the local chapter of the nonprofit group Organizing for Action, which supports President Barack Obama’s agenda, included about an hour-long panel with East Texas religious, business and legal leaders and then opened the floor for a question and answer session.
“We like to work with different groups on different issues, and immigration reform is a really good example of an area where you can work with a diverse number of groups that transcend political boundaries, faith boundaries, social boundaries, demographic boundaries, the works,” said Vik Verma, the regional leader for Organizing for Action, in opening the forum.
Longview-based immigration attorney Jose Sanchez led the discussion, beginning with an examination of the legislation, Senate Bill 744, which passed the U.S. Senate with bi-partisan support and is headed to the Republican-controlled House.
Speakers at the panel were Sanchez; Gilbert Urbina of the Hispanic Center in Tyler; Price Arredondo of the Hispanic Business Alliance in Tyler; Tony Powell of the Longview Metro Chamber of Commerce; and the Rev. Gavin Vaverek, priest of St. Mary’s Catholic Church.
Panelists argued that work was being done to secure the southern border to prevent the flow of undocumented workers, and said the community would be better served if immigrants in America illegally were able to live without fear and with a path to become citizens.
Mike Schwartz, co-founder of We the People-Longview — the city’s tea party group — was the first to speak when the floor was opened to the more than 100 people in attendance.
“Why can’t you just say, ‘Let’s go ahead and fix the broken water pipes, stop immigration at the border.’ You will stop your drug problems, your chaos down there. Stop all of that stuff, and then figure out the people that are here. Why can’t it be done in that order? Why does it have to be done all together in a two-week period?” Schwartz asked the panel.
Schwartz wasn’t alone, as several other attendees voiced their concerns with the legislation.
One woman, a self-described “legal immigrant,” argued that she had taken the time to immigrate legally, and the sovereignty of the United States would be weakened if the nation did anything but punish those who had disobeyed the nation’s immigration laws.
Another man, who said he volunteered at the border, said he does not believe the statistics being touted on border security.
In opposition, another group of attendees spoke in favor of the legislation.
D. Karen Wilkerson, an area leader for the Texas Democratic Party, argued that America is a nation of immigrants and said those arguing against the bill may be doing so out of fear.
“I hear fear in a lot of the voices here. Fear is a great divider, not a unifier. In this country, the problems that we have, and there are many I agree, we need to come together and work together and unite this country and not divide it,” Wilkerson said. “Diversity and cooperation and the art of compromise, personal compromise ... as well as in the halls of Congress and every other governmental body ... we have to learn to get along, we have to stop fighting these battles. If we do not stop fighting, we will fall.”
Verma said members of Organizing for Action were pleased with the forum and said the reason the meeting was open was to allow discussion and let others hear a different point of view.
“I think (the panel) did a good job of making the case,” Verma said. I think they gave a lot of information.”