WENATCHEE — Two skilled orators. Two passionately expressed, pro-immigration viewpoints. Two different ways to bring about change.
That sums up a discussion on comprehensive immigration reform that drew more than 100 people to the Wenatchee Valley College Campus Theater Thursday.
Speakers Dale Foreman and Steve Beren expressed opposing viewpoints on a 1,200-page, comprehensive immigration reform bill that is currently languishing in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Both spoke in favor of change. But each would go about it differently.
“I’ve always been for immigration. I’m for immigration today, and that’s why I’m opposed to comprehensive immigration reform,” said Beren, a Seattle marketing consultant, conservative speaker, writer, blogger and activist. “I’m for securing the border first.”
Dale Foreman, a local attorney, orchardist and former 12th District state representative, disagreed.
“I am a fruit grower. I need workers. I am biased,” he told a crowd that was about evenly mixed, white and non-white. “There are 11 million people (undocumented immigrants), and we are not going to deport them. Period. It’s not just a legal, economic and political question. It’s a moral question. What are we going to do with the stranger among us?”
Foreman spoke in favor of the bipartisan reform bill in congress, insisting that a path to citizenship or legal residency for the country’s millions of undocumented immigrants, as well as tighter border security and a functional guest worker program is “politically difficult, historically inevitable, legally necessary and a moral imperative.”
Beren argued that residency based on “breaking the law is not a good start in America.” He said that immigrant labor, which is often illegal-immigrant labor, is a “negative factor” that prevents the ag sector from innovating, improving, taking risks and discovering new technologies to aid in harvest.
He agreed that the massive bill may contain some good solutions that would have bipartisan support, including a speedier path to citizenship or residency. After the borders are secure, he said, those issues should be broken out and passed as separate bills, instead of becoming lost in a large, complex bill that will never have enough support to become law.
Drawing on experience as a fruit-industry lobbyist and former state lawmaker, Foreman said he agreed that Beren’s solution is the best one, but not one that would ever be produced in Washington, D.C., where legislation is based on give and take, compromise and quid pro quo.
The fruit industry will survive without reform, Foreman said, but undocumented immigrants will continue to “live in limbo,” fearful that they could be deported.
“How do we have a society that is just, that is fair, that meets people’s needs? You don’t do that by stomping down on the least fortunate,” Foreman said, likening the U.S. experience with immigration to experiences of other countries.
Beren insisted, “We already have a path to citizenship, citing his Polish grandfather who gained citizenship by following the rules. “It’s a privilege for people not born here to come here. It’s not a right,” he said.
Holding up a small, paperback U.S. Constitution, Beren added, “This is why people come here. We are not the same as the rest of the world… Opposition to comprehensive reform is the only way to achieve the improvements for both citizens and immigrants.”
Thursday’s discussion was presented by the North Central Washington Immigration Reform Roundtable, a group representing bipartisan and nonprofit organizations, faith-based communities, businesses and families. The discussion moderator was Steve Lachowicz, who recently retired as communications director at the Chelan County PUD.
The keynote speaker was Jon Wyss, president of the Okanogan Valley Farm Bureau. He urged everyone in the audience to get involved, because everyone who has ever bought a dairy product, eaten apples or had concern for their children could relate to the predicament of foreigners who enter the U.S. because they can’t make a living in their home countries.
“In every aspect there is a human element,” Wyss told the crowd. “If you have an 11-year waiting list to get a green card (legal residency and permission to work in the U.S.) and you have a child to take care of… What are you going to do? I know what I’m going to do. I’m going to take a risk.”