Local News

Wednesday, Jun 25 2014 10:30 PM

Council puts off resolution on immigration reform

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    The City Council meeting was a full house with many waiting in the foyer of City Hall South before being able to get a seat.

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    The first speaker to make his presentation in favor of immigration reform, House of Representatives Bill 15, Robert England addresses the city council members Wednesday.

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  3. 3 of 4

    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    The City Council meeting Wednesday evening was a full house, leaving many in the foyer of City Hall South before being able to get a seat.

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    During Wednesday's City Council meeting in downtown Bakersfield, Carol Looker spoke out against a council resolution in support of House of Representatives Bill 15, a piece of immigration reform legislation now before Congress.

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BY THEO DOUGLAS Californian staff writer tdouglas@bakersfield.com

Timing is supposed to be everything -- but a pro-immigration reform resolution many thought could have capitalized on the momentum of Congressman Kevin McCarthy's election to House majority leader was tabled indefinitely Wednesday by the Bakersfield City Council after more than an hour of discussion.

The resolution supporting House of Representatives Bill 15, a four-tiered effort at immigration reform sponsored by Rep. Joe Garcia, D-Miami, was originally to have been heard in April.

Ward 1 Councilman Willie Rivera, the council's lone Democrat, brought it forward but pulled it from a previous council agenda because members were absent.

Rescheduled a week after McCarthy's election, the resolution attracted nationwide attention, as people on both sides of the issue wonder what the Bakersfield Republican will do on immigration -- and when.

A mere policy statement, the resolution was largely symbolic and would not have been decisive in the ongoing debate, which has seen immigration activists frequently camp outside McCarthy's office in recent months.

On Wednesday, more than 40 activists from the Kern County Coalition for Immigration Reform With a Pathway to Citizenship helped fill the 190-person capacity council chambers and spilled out into the lobby.

They spoke passionately about the need for national immigration reform now and the importance of this resolution regardless of its heft, but so did all but two of 19 speakers in favor of the resolution.

"Out of the happenstance that McCarthy got elected, we have a voice in the national debate," said Cal State Bakersfield professor Gonzalo Santos in an interview before saying much the same to the council.

Other agreed.

"I urge you to consider this vote here today with compassion, generosity and humanity because everybody is looking at Bakersfield, everybody wants to know how you will vote," said Mirna Troncoso Sawyer, a UCLA doctoral candidate whose voice broke as she told the council she understood the situation intimately because her parents were undocumented.

Jose Gurrola, a councilman in Arvin, which passed a pro-immigration reform resolution last year, said the same.

"You guys were elected to solve problems. Doing nothing doesn't solve problems," Gurrola said.

Others were equally blunt in asking the council to stand down.

"I don't think it's fair for the government to expect hardworking Americans to support the influx of the illegal aliens," Carol Looker said.

The council agreed.

Saying the resolution was "not an issue we should act on," Vice Mayor Ken Weir made a motion to table it indefinitely until at least four council members vote to bring it back for discussion.

Rivera explained he felt it balanced border security -- a Republican key -- with a pathway to citizenship, crucial for Democrats.

"My intention with this particular resolution was to continue the dialogue on an issue I think is very important to the city of Bakersfield, the Central Valley, the state of California and our nation," Rivera said.

Ward 2 Councilman Terry Maxwell said H.R. 15 takes too long to beef up the border and fails to properly penalize those who are here undocumented.

"We have been fooled once back in the '80s," Maxwell said, referring to reform approved then and calling on Weir to put together an ad hoc council committee on the issue.

That didn't happen.

At the request of Ward 5 Councilman Harold Hanson, the council first voted 6-1 with Rivera opposing to "call for the question" or end debate.

It then voted 5-2 with Rivera and Maxwell opposed to table the resolution.

Audience members were not impressed, with scores briefly rallying outside City Hall.

"About what I expected," said speaker Larry Taylor. "I sort of felt I knew how the council would go. I tried to shame them."

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