Local Politics

Monday, Jan 28 2013 05:50 PM

In Kern, optimism tempered by guarded hopes

BY COURTENAY EDELHART Californian staff writer cedelhart@bakersfield.com

Local advocates for immigrants applauded the news Monday that a bipartisan Senate group was taking another stab at comprehensive immigration reform.

"We're extremely encouraged," said United Farm Workers President Arturo Rodriguez.

Similar proposals have been floated in the past without success. But the 2012 election results that ushered President Obama to a second term were a wake-up call for Republicans, Rodriguez said.

It's clear now that you can't win if "the needs of Latinos, Asians, African Americans, women and the labor movement are not dealt with," he said.

On Monday, a group of eight senators from both sides of the aisle publicly presented a four-pronged proposal that would create a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, modernize and streamline the immigration process for legal immigrants, improve the employment verification system for those seeking to hire foreigners and improve the process for admitting future workers to the country.

President Obama is scheduled to give a major speech in support of immigration reform in Las Vegas today.

The UFW is sending a delegation to Nevada to meet with him.

Juana Carbajal, 43, will be among them. She's a former farmworker who now serves as an outreach coordinator for the UFW.

Carbajal, who came to the United States as a child, said she's looking forward to telling the president that change is long overdue.

"He promised us once, but nothing happened. We really hope that in the next four years, he's able to get it done. Farmworkers will benefit from legalization, and they deserve it. They're hard-working people. We have food on the table because of them."

Mexican immigrant Ana Canchola, 25, is also part of the delegation headed for Las Vegas.

She said she didn't take anything for granted when she heard that lawmakers were making another run at passing immigration reform.

"I'm kind of -- I'm a little bit excited, but this has happened in the past and nothing came of it, so I'm not sure, to be honest with you," she said. "Maybe it will happen, maybe it won't. I hope something does happen."

Not everyone is pleased with the proposal, however.

Bill Lind of the Bakersfield Tea Party said he likes portions of the proposal, but opposes "rewarding law breakers with amnesty."

That would be unfair to immigrants who waited in line and followed the rules to move to the United States legally, Lind said.

Rodriguez said it's in everyone's best interest to reform an immigration system that is broken, but it's particularly important for the Central Valley.

Kern, Fresno and Tulare counties have huge numbers of immigrants working in agriculture who currently aren't able to fully contribute to strengthening the nation's economy, he said.

When they are legal, "they'll be able to buy cars and buy homes. Their children will be able to go to universities and colleges. Folks will be able to pay their taxes," Rodriguez said.

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