Faith, business and agricultural leaders gathered Tuesday morning at the Milk Producers of Idaho to urge Idaho's congressional delegation to press for immigration reform.
The conference, part of a Mountain West-wide series of such conferences simultaneously taking place in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah, was the launch of a letter, written to congressional delegations from across the western United States, urging immigration reform which advocates say will boost agricultural and industrial production, and help relieve a humanitarian crisis.
"It's time for Congress to stop inaction," said Milk Producers of Idaho President Brent Olmstead. He and other Idaho business leaders have long pushed for immigration reform, citing a national emphasis on border security over creating a guest worker program as contributing to unfilled ag jobs and decreased ag production.
Olmstead said he has pushed Idaho's congressional delegates to be more assertive on the issue.
"'Now's not the time.' Well, when is the time?" he said.
Others said they were drawn to the issue for humanitarian reasons. For World Relief Boise Field Office Director Larry Jones, offering contemporary migrants access to jobs in America is analogous to America's ultimate acceptance of German and Irish immigrants in the 19th century, and waves of immigration from Central and Eastern Europe in the 20th.
"We cannot survive without them economically and we cannot survive morally without them," he said.
Dave Cahoon of El Centro, a Nampa-based financial services business that tailors services to the Hispanic population, said he's unable to offer auto or home insurance to undocumented workers in his service area—coverage undocumented workers want but cannot have because they don't have Social Security numbers.
"I see these people as equals," he said. "We see the struggles, we see the stories."
With mere days remaining in the 2013 legislative session before the congressional holiday break, House Majority Leader John Boehner has flatly denied that the House will take up the Senate's comprehensive immigration reform bill—a 1,300 page document—before the break, according to the The New York Times.
In fact, Speaker Boehner went one step further.
"I’ll make clear we have no intention of ever going to conference on the Senate bill," he told The Times.
The Senate bill passed the U.S. Senate with bipartisan support in June, but its consideration in the House of Representatives was delayed due to a general government shutdown in October caused by a Tea Party-led blockade of extending the nation's credit limit and funding of the Affordable Healthcare Act.
Nov. 10, Boise Weekly reported that the odds of the House taking up the Senate's immigration reform bill were slim, but the bill enjoys wide support from business leaders, immigrant rights advocates and faith leaders in Idaho and from across the country
Following ten months of failed attempts to jump-start comprehensive immigration reform on Capitol Hill, a top Republican lawmaker says the biggest foe can't be stopped: Congress is simply running out of time.
In late October, a delegation of Idaho business owners, faith leaders and immigration advocates, joined hundreds of other businessmen and women to take their push for reform to the halls of Congress. Included in the lobbying effort were representatives from Idaho's El Centro USA, Klowd.com, Idaho Dairymen and the Idaho Potato Commission.
But The New York Times reports that California Rep. Kevin MCarthy, the U.S. House majority whip, said that "the 16 days remaining on the House calendar in 2013 were too short a window for the House to take up the complex issue."
But McCarthy was quick to add that he was committed to moving on immigration votes in the House during 2014.
Meanwhile another U.S. House Republican said he's not discouraged. Florida Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart said he's working on a measure that immigration reform will include a strengthening of border security, while allowing 11.7 million undocumented immigrants into the country. Diaz-Balart told The Times that he's working on attracting at least 117 Republican votes—a majority of the GOP caucus.
"I'm as optimistic as I've ever been about the chance of getting this done in this Congress," he said.
A unique, albeit powerful, lobbying force from Idaho is winging to Washington, D.C., to take part in what should be a political showdown to push lawmakers—with particular emphasis on pressuring Republicans in the U.S. House—to agree to immigration reform.
As Citydesk reported Oct. 27, the national coalition already includes the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and media titan Rupert Murdoch.
Joining the coalition, which has now been dubbed the Bibles, Badges and Business for Immigration Reform Network, will be a team from Idaho, including:
• Travis Blacker — Industry Relations Director, Idaho Potato Commission
• Dave Cahoon — President, El Centro USA
• Jeremy Chou — Attorney, Idaho Business Coalition for Immigration Reform
• Travis Hawkes — President, Sports Fan Corporation
• Ken Holsinger — CEO, Klowd.com
• Terry Jones — Owner, Rimfire Ranch
• Mark Klompien — President, Idaho Grower Shippers Association
• Ken McClure — Attorney, Idaho Business Coalition for Immigration Reform
• Bob Naerebout — Executive Director, Idaho Dairymen
• Nick Robinson — CEO, Acme Dairy
• Travis Thompson — Managing Partner, Aletheia Capital Advisors
• Ken Wilde — Senior Pastor, Capital Christian Center
The coalition is promising to meet with hundreds of lawmakers representing congressional districts from across the country.
A new effort to revitalize the push for immigration reform will storm Capitol Hill this coming week, but the troops this time will include a unusual coalition of prominent conservatives, faith leaders and some of the nation's wealthiest business executives—a group that The New York Times reports "threatens to create another schism in the Republican Party."
The strongest weapon in their arsenal? Money.
According to The Times' Eric Lipton and Ashley Parker, "several Republican executives and donors who are part of the lobbying blitz ... said they were considering withholding, or had already decided to withhold, future financial support to Republican lawmakers they believe are obstructing progress on immigration."
Among those expected to hit Capitol Hill, with particularly focus on the U.S. House, will include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and the Partnership for a New Economy, which is led jointly by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Bill Marriott Jr. and media titan Rupert Murdoch.
Members of the coalition said they concede that there are approximately 30 Republican members of the U.S. House that won't budge and would probably never approve any meaningful reform, "but they believe they can piece together a majority of the Republican caucus to pass certain bills," according to The Times.
"Doing nothing is not the answer," said Glen McCall, a Republican National Committee leader who is participating in the new lobbying effort.
Hundreds of advocates for immigration reform are protesting Idaho House representative Raul Labrador’s recent statement against reform by gathering at his office in Meridian today at 1:15 p.m for a press conference declaring, “We are not your pawns.”
“They just feel like this is a game to him. That he is playing with thousands of people in Idaho that live here and are undocumented. He is playing with their lives because they are in hopes of immigration reform,” said Ruby Mendez, a spokesperson for the Idaho Community Action Network. “For him to come out and say that the immigration bill is dead or it won’t even pass is definitely very upsetting for many people. They feel like they are being used.”
Labrador has been a supporter of immigration reform in the past, but in June he backed out of a bipartisan group sponsoring an immigration reform bill. Oct. 16, when asked by Huffington Post if immigration reform was dead he said yes, citing the Obama administration and the shutdown for why immigration reform would be impossible.
“I think it is,” Labrador told the Huffington Post. “For us to go to a negotiation, to the negotiating table with President Obama after what he has done over the last two and a half weeks, I think would be probably a very big mistake.”
But the Idaho Community Action Network and the Coalition For Immigration Rights in Idaho are skeptical of his recent comments, and in this press conference will call on Labrador to step up to bi-partisan leadership and sponsor new immigration bill HR15.
“Our main purpose is to call out on Labrador for two things. One is to co-sponsor a bill called HR15. Another one is to show leadership and call on [House] Speaker [John] Boehner to support the bill,” said Mendez.
For immigration advocates in Idaho, Labrador’s against renewed talk of immigration reform means he is playing political games with their lives.
“That is why we are using that term, 'pawns,' because we feel like we are a game to him. He can just say, ‘No more immigration reform,’” said Mendez. “He should know the difficulties many of these families go through because he was an immigration attorney. He personally lived and worked with these people. He should help his constituents in this situation.”
But Mendez and other supporters of immigration reform still believe Labrador can be the leader they need him to be.
“We have been pushing on Labrador because he has been very vocal about immigration reform. We definitely feel that he can be the type of leadership that pushes for passing immigration reform with bi-partisan leadership,” said Mendez.
Calling it a personal devotion on a very public issue, some Treasure Valley faith leaders this morning launched 11 days of fasting and prayer to call attention to what they call a "broken immigration system."
"Something needs to happen. Something needs to change," Bishop Brian Thom, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Idaho told Boise Weekly. "Anything would be better than nothing."
Thom joined other faith leaders and the Coalition for Immigrant Rights of Idaho to call on the U.S. congress to pass sweeping immigration reform. Through Friday, Sept. 13, faith communities joining the 11-day fast and vigil will include Grace Episcopal in Nampa, Hyde Park Mennonite Fellowship and Boise Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, and a number of Catholic Churches that will focus on immigration in upcoming services Sunday, Sept. 8.
"The immigration system is a bit of an oxymoron," Thom told BW. "And we harm ourselves twice: in our own values and forgetting the promise of coming to this country."
Thom said he saw the fast and vigil as "not so much a deprivation of the body's need, but to focus our attention into a moment of reflection with God. It's a personal devotion."
"As someone once said, 'We sit in the shade of a tree that someone else planted,'" he said.
Idaho Republican Rep. Raul Labrador was on NBC again this morning—his sixth time, more appearances than some of the network's failed sitcoms.
Appearing on NBC's Meet the Press, Labrador was initially booked on the news program to talk about immigration reform, but the two-term U.S. House member also talked about last week's unexpected White House announcement that a key provision of the Affordable Care Act, a requirement for large businesses to secure health coverage for their employers, would be delayed until 2015.
"The Obama Administration wants you to believe that they're listening to the business owners and I give them a little bit of credit for that," said Labrador. "But the question is: What part of Obamacare actually works? They've already conceded on other points that Obamacare is not working. Now they have to do it on the employer mandate. Pretty soon they're going to have to have some questions on the individual mandates."
On immigration reform, Labrador was cautiously optimistic that a reform measure would be passed through the House.
"My concern with the Senate bill is that they put the legalization of 11 million people ahead of security. I think the American people are not going to stand for that," said Labrador. "This [Obama] administration is actually deciding when and where to enforce the law. That's what some of us in the House are concerned about. I can tell you that [Secretary of Homeland Security] Janet Napolitano has already said the border is secure. So what's going to happen is that we're going to give legalization to 11 million people and Janet Napolitano is going to come to Congress and say the border is already secure and nothing else needs to happen."
When the New York Times' David Brooks challenged Labrador with giving "an intellectually weak case" against the Senate's immigration reform bill, the Idaho congressman said, "What I just heard is totally ridiculous."
"For somebody to sit here on national TV and say it's a weak argument for us to argue that we want 90 percent security, I think it's beyond the pale," said Labrador. "There are a lot of things we could do to make this law stronger."
But Brooks pushed back again.
"This law is better than the current law. Generally, when the law is better than what we've got, you want to support that," said Brooks.
Labrador insisted that, "If we don't do this right, it could be the death of the Republican Party."
"If we don't do it right, this is what is going to happen: We're going to lose our base because we're still going to have a large number of illegal immigrants coming into the United States and the Hispanic community is not going to listen to us because they're going to always listen to, at this point, the people who are offering more, that are offering a faster path to citizenship. I think we lose on both grounds if we don't do it right," said Labrador.
In the final leg of a three-day pilgrimage in triple-digit heat, participants in the Coalition for Immigrant Rights of Idaho’s Citizenship Walk said they tackled their last nine miles to Downtown Meridian with pride and perseverance.
“It was really interesting to see how we as a people grew over the last three days,” walk organizer Krista Bustamante told the Boise Weekly of the neighborly atmosphere of the last day’s trek.
Since July 1, approximately 140 people, ranging in age from 7 to 80 years old, walked various distances along the 30-mile road from Wilder to Meridian raising awareness for the number of families affected by a lack of immigration reform. Along the way walkers said they celebrated their struggle for citizenship in the presence of family, friends and the community.
“It was also enlightening to see the community come out and support us," said Bustamante. "People left work to walk with us; people who didn’t even know about the walk offered us food and water along the way.”
Supporters from the Idaho Community Action Network and the CIRI gathered on the steps of Meridian City Hall Wednesday afternoon for a prayer service and rally. Only five representatives were granted access (inside City Hall) to the office of Idaho Republican Rep. Raul Labrador. The representatives said they offered three messages in the form of gifts to Labrador's staff.
“The first gifts were handmade butterflies to represent our seeking of a pathway to citizenship. Next was a petition of 1,006 names encouraging Congressman Labrador to vote 'yes' on immigration reform,” Bustamante said. "The final gift was a single painted butterfly decorated with the signatures of every man, woman, and child that took the 30 mile journey."
Even in 100-degree conditions, the fight for the rights of immigrants doesn’t abate, and the Coalition for Immigrant Rights of Idaho is set to lead a three-day Citizenship Walk from Wilder to Meridian to address the issue of immigration reform in the Gem State starting July 1 at 4 p.m.
With the recent passing of immigration reform bill S. 744 by the U.S. Senate, the Citizenship Walk is one of celebration and support for the future of immigration reform.
“We’re celebrating where immigration reform is today,” Krista Bustamante, one of the event's organizers, told Boise Weekly. “But we also want to encourage our congressmen to continue to move forward with bipartisan immigration reform.”
Upon the group’s arrival at Meridian City Hall, supporters of comprehensive immigration reform will address the public and, hopefully, get the attention of Republican Rep. Raul Labrador, who opposes the Senate bill in its current form.
“Our excitement for the Senate-passed bill is that it’s the closest we’ve ever been to comprehensive immigration reform in the last fifteen years,” Bustamante said. “We want to lift the spirits and go back to the moral argument that immigration reform will help in the effort to reunite families.”
A peaceful display of this manner emphasizes its ultimate value to the community, said Citizenship Walk spokesman, Fernando Mejia.
“It means a lot for the moral argument. People are willing to risk themselves. It’s going to be really hot, and people are still willing to do it,” he said. “The message is that we are here, we want to stay here, and we are contributing back to society.”
The demonstration will take supporters on a 30-mile journey from the Chula Vista Housing Authority in Wilder to the steps of Meridian City Hall on Wednesday, July 3. However, according to Bustamante, the walk will be taken in strides to accommodate extreme conditions for the safety of families and individuals involved.