Coalition pushes for immigration reform

As the crowd applauds, Jorge Flores, left, of Rifle hands Jerry Otero of Sen. Michael Bennet’s office a stack of petitions supporting comprehensive immigration reform during a meeting on the issue Wednesday at the Grand Junction City Hall auditorium.

Congress needs to act quickly on ways to treat illegal immigrants in the country and regulate continued immigration, a coalition of religious organizations said Wednesday.

Hispanics from Mesa County as well as others representing agricultural and resort communities across the Western Slope called on Congress to deliver comprehensive immigration reform this year.

In a meeting organized by the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, the groups presented petitions and postcards with 6,000 signatures to a representative of U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and offered petitions also at the offices of Sen. Mark Udall and U.S. Rep. John Salazar, both Colorado Democrats.

About 160 people who gathered in the Grand Junction City Council chambers applauded as speakers called for immigration reform.

The U.S. economy would benefit from change to establish a “consistent and reliable source of labor,” said Mark Harris, who owns Grand Valley Farms and Grand Valley Hybrids in the Appleton area of the Grand Valley.

His interest in immigration reform is more than economic, Harris told the crowd.

“It’s a moral issue as well as an economic one,” Harris said, calling for fair treatment for immigrants, illegal and legal, who “literally and figuratively put food on our tables.”

The people gathered in the auditorium are patriotic and want to become citizens, Harris said.

“These people love America,” he said.

The American farm economy depends on foreign-born labor, with foreign-born people amounting to 80 percent of all farm employees, Harris said. Without changes in the immigration system, one-third of food production in the United States will move out of the country, he said.

Immigrants hoping to become citizens are eager to reward politicians who change the system, said Jorge Flores of Rifle.

“We are tired of being in the shadows and not being taken into account,” Flores said. “Our votes can make the difference.”

The forum in Grand Junction City Hall is intended to be the first of several rallies and protests across the Western Slope that organizers hope will result in legislation, said Brendan Greene of the Denver-based Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition.

A path to legalization and citizenship is key to the needs of people already in the United States, Greene said. After that, the United States needs a way to coordinate the needs of industry with other countries to match domestic labor requirements with people wanting to immigrate, Greene said.


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