Immigration debate comes to Auburn

Public forum on Sunday to weigh sides of the issue
By: Andrew Westrope, Staff Writer
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When: 1:30-3:30 p.m. Sunday, April 14

Where: Sierra Foothills Unitarian Universalists church, 190 Finley St., Auburn

Cost: free

On the cusp of the expected proposal of a federal immigration bill this week, local immigration reform advocates are organizing a forum for debate on the issue.

Co-sponsored by Placer People of Faith Together and the Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry of California, the Sierra Foothills Unitarian Universalists will host the forum from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Sunday at their church in Auburn. San Jose immigration attorney Richard Hobbs will be the featured speaker, followed by immigrants with personal stories and a question-and-answer panel with the audience. Attendance is free, but seating is limited to about 140.

Unitarian Universalists Rev. Wendy Bartel said the forum will be an extension of what the church began in March 2012 with a class called “Immigration as a Moral Issue.” She said participants in the class became more heavily involved with the immigration policy debate eight months ago, then worked with Placer People of Faith Together, which hosted a rally in Sacramento last month, to bring the debate to Auburn.

“As part of our Unitarian Universalist values, it’s really important to us to affirm the inherent worth and dignity of every person, and we know that, in the current immigration system, that’s not actually what’s happening,” Bartel said. “It seems that not all of our elected officials know that the process is not as easy as we once thought it was … The immigration process is actually much more complicated than simply standing in line and signing some paperwork. It actually is a really challenging process for most people who would like to immigrate here, and so education is primary.”

More than being a soap box for a handful of people, she said, the forum’s main purpose is an attempt at reconciliation through conversation.

“I also think that it’s really important to bring people together who may have different ideas and different understandings to be able to be in conversation with each other, because that’s how we create more peace and justice – providing opportunities for respectful conversations, the sharing of ideas,” she said.

Robert Archer, a member of the forum’s planning team, hoped the event would help its sponsors in their dialogue with elected officials by getting voters up to speed.

“We have publicized it as widely as we know how … I believe that there are some misconceptions,” he said, though he would not specify further. “We believe that educating the public will lead to a better understanding of solutions to the problems … and we feel that some of the solutions that have been put forward are not realistic.”

Hobbs, the keynote speaker, was slightly more candid.

“We know that the immigration system is completely broken in this country,” he said. “I know there’s been a lot of talk, including by Congressman McClintock, about how undocumented immigrants should not cut in line, so I will be talking very specifically about whether or not there is a line, and how long undocumented immigrants have waited for that line.”

As current Policy Director of the Silicon Valley American Immigration Lawyers Association, a former director of the immigration program at Catholic Charities for Santa Clara County and a former director of citizenship and immigrant programs for Santa Clara County, Hobbs will present background information on the issue and lay statistical groundwork for what event planners call “compassionate” immigration reform. He cites a piece of 1986 legislation approved by President Ronald Reagan, which gave three million undocumented immigrants a temporary and then permanent residence, as a model for reform.

“It was actually much more generous than what is being proposed today in the Senate or by Obama, or probably by the House of Representatives, in that it actually provided a path to a green card and citizenship much more quickly,” Hobbs said.

He will also discuss the need for enforcement programs to keep national borders secure before comprehensive immigration reform is possible, and the need for reunifying mixed-status families.