from the Texas News Connection - A statewide news service for Texas
EL PASO, Texas - Hundreds of border-community residents are expected to seek immigration reform commitments from three key congressmen this evening in El Paso. Illinois Representative Luis Gutierrez and California's Joe Baca will join Silvestre Reyes of El Paso at the public forum, sponsored by the Border Network for Human Rights.
The group's executive director, Fernando Garcia, says that just a few years ago comprehensive immigration reform seemed imminent, until fear-mongering and scapegoating put it on the political back burner. He says it's time to call out "extremists" who paint immigrants as enemies of the nation's well-being.
"They are painting immigrants - and painting the border - in a very distorted way. Immigrants for them are criminals. Immigrants are lazy. Immigrants do not contribute - which is totally the opposite. So what we're facing is a narrative that is promoting fear."
Reform opponents claim state and federal budgets are being overwhelmed by costs associated with undocumented immigrants, and immigration is hurting job prospects for U.S. citizens. Advocates say the statistics paint a very different picture.
Garcia says public figures have been exploiting racially-charged, nativist attitudes for political gain, thus deepening the immigration crisis by delaying the inevitable.
"The fact that we need immigration reform and to change our border policies is undeniable. And we're going to move in that direction, so it is unavoidable."
He says lawmakers should put the brakes on what he calls an increasingly militarized border. Most Americans, he adds, aren't aware of statistics showing the U.S. side is mostly peaceful, and has actually been getting safer in recent years.
Garcia wants the congressmen to press President Obama to adopt more sensible and humane deportation and border-enforcement policies, and to create new citizenship opportunities for students and military volunteers. But standing in the way of any reform agenda, according to Garcia, is the "myth" that nothing can happen until the border is more secure.
"We need to change that narrative. And tell them to understand that immigrants actually do contribute. They are part of this society. It's an immigrant nation, and there's nothing to fear."
The El Paso forum starts at 6 p.m. today at the downtown El Paso Public Library, and will be broadcast live on www.ustream.tv and live tweeting will be at www.twitter.com .
Peter Malof reporting, email@example.com