WILKES-BARRE – Three leaders in the area's Hispanic community Wednesday praised the bipartisan immigration reform plan announced earlier this week, saying it will benefit the nation's economy.
Angel Jirau, founder and president of SALSA – Spanish American Leaders Serving All – joined with Rod Gereda of the Interfaith Center for Peace and Justice and businessman Amilcar Arroyo in praising Democrats and Republicans for working together.
The proposed Senate bill would provide a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants already in the country, secure the nation's borders, attempt to simplify legal immigration and add requirements for employers to prevent hiring of illegal immigrants.
The big argument is why let these 11 million undocumented immigrants become citizens, Jirau said. Many of them have been in this country for many years. They have been paying taxes when they buy bread, food and gas. You can't send 11 million people back. Many of them are hard-working and love this country as much as anybody else.
Jirau, of Wilkes-Barre, said he agrees with state Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Hazleton, that the country's borders must be secure, but he said nobody should assume that people are coming to the United States to do harm. Barletta opposes the proposal by a bipartisan group of eight senators.
Many of these people are leaving villages overrun by the drug cartel, said Jirau. They have been exploited and are looking for opportunities here. They are coming to America for a better life.
Arroyo, former publisher of a Spanish newspaper based in Hazleton, said a bipartisan effort to address immigration problems is a good sign. We have been waiting a long time for Congress to do something about this, he said. It's a good step toward solving this problem.
Arroyo considers Barletta a friend, he said, but the two differ on this issue. Gereda was far more critical of Barletta, saying the congressman has agitated the sensitive issue.
To me, (Barletta's) not racist, Arroyo said. For him, it's part of his political platform. Let me give the Republican Party some advice for the future: Learn to speak Spanish.
Hispanics will become more active in politics, both Arroyo and Gereda said. They expect to see Latinos run for political office and be more outspoken in political campaigns. We want to be a part of government, Arroyo said.
Gereda, of Wilkes-Barre, said the fact that anything bipartisan happened in Washington is remarkable. This is a huge leap forward, not just for the people who will directly benefit from it, but for America and businesses, he said. This will be a godsend to chambers of commerce everywhere and for the economic revival of cities like Hazleton.
If the senators group's compromise legislation is enacted, it will generate an economic ripple, Gereda said.
An existing underground economy will rise to the surface, he said. You will see an increase in the tax base and in business revenue.
Many Republicans are trying to attract the Hispanic vote, Gereda said. The November election clearly showed that if a political party is closed to attracting the Hispanic community, he said, its candidates won't win.
The GOP has to tone down the hatred or go out of business, he said. The Hispanic-speaking political machine is just beginning to flex its muscle.
Arroyo said the best way for members of the nation's Hispanic community to say thank you to Congress is to work. Most are already working, he said. But others must find work. And the GOP has to move to that side a little bit to stay in office.