Senate reform brings local immigrant 'one step closer' to citizenship

Cincinnati Enquirer

The first thing Jose Cabrera did Thursday when he got home to Pleasant Ridge from work was hug his mother, Maria, and tell her that the U.S. Senate had just passed a sweeping immigration bill that would give them a path to U.S. citizenship.

“Then we prayed to God that the House would pass it,” said Jose, 18, a high school senior who works part-time as a mechanic and, like his mother, entered the country illegally from Mexico. “I told her we were one step closer.”

The Senate passed the landmark immigration bill Thursday that would boost border security, overhaul the visa system and provide a tough, 13-year pathway to citizenship for Jose and Maria Cabrera and many of the other 11 million immigrants living without legal documentation in the United States.

Senators voted 68-32 to approve the legislation, crafted by a bipartisan “Gang of Eight” senators. The 1,200-plus page bill now moves to the Republican-led House, where its future is uncertain. House leaders have so far favored a much narrower, piecemeal approach that does not include the pathway to citizenship for people living in the country illegally.

“The House is not going to take up and vote on whatever the Senate passes,” House Speaker John Boehner, the West Chester Republican, said Thursday. “We’re going to do our own bill, through regular order, and it’ll be legislation that reflects the will of our majority and the will of the American people.”

Boehner said he plans to meet with House Republicans July 10 to discuss how to proceed. He said Wednesday that he would not bring any legislation to the full House unless a majority of Republicans favored it.

Nationally, one of the leading voices against the Senate legislation or any expansion of immigration policy, Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, placed his hopes in Boehner.

“It's now the House's job to allow this bloated, dangerous measure to die on the vine,” Krikorian wrote on the center’s website. “Unfortunately, the decision about what happens next rests almost entirely on the shoulders of John Boehner.”

The Ohio Senate delegation was split, with Republican Rob Portman of Terrace Park voting against the bill and Democrat Sherrod Brown voting yes. Kentucky’s Republican senators, Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul, voted no.

“I had wanted very much to support a reform to our immigration law,” McConnell said on the Senate floor Thursday. “So it’s with a great deal of regret, for me at least, that the final bill didn’t turn out to be something that I could support.”

After weeks on the fence as a potential yes vote, Portman ended up as one of 32 Republicans to vote against it. He had signaled that he could not support the bill unless he won passage of an amendment to improve E-Verify provisions to allow businesses to determine the eligibility of people to work in the U.S. But his efforts became entangled in partisan bickering and sparked accusations from the Senate’s top Democrat, Nevada’s Harry Reid, that Portman wanted “a big show rather than a legislative win.”

Portman dismissed that accusation as a distortion and said his amendment was vital to shutting down the “jobs magnet” that draws so many undocumented workers to the United States.

Without his E-Verify amendment, “there’s no way I can look at my constituents in the eye and tell them (the immigration bill) will work,” Portman told Ohio reporters Thursday.

Portman had received thousands of cards – including those organized during Sunday Masses June 16 at the Cabrera’s church, San Carlos Borromeo in Carthage – calling for his support of the bill. His vote drew immediate criticism from Ohio Prophetic Voices, a group of hundreds of Christian ministers and faith leaders who support a path to citizenship.

“Over the past several months, Sen. Portman and his office shared that he would do what is best for the people of Ohio, and would never let the perfect get in the way of the good,” read a release by Prophetic Voices, whose leaders include the Rev. Troy Jackson, former pastor of a University Heights church. “He expressed sympathy and support for the plight of hard working people who are living in the shadows of a broken system. He noted he has been studying the Scriptures regularly to provide grounding for him as he approached this historic vote.

Sen. Portman allowed his narrow personal agenda to get in the way of joining an historic vote for 11 million people created n God’s image.”

The Archdiocese of Cincinnati, in a statement released after the vote, said, “We now look forward to working with our local elected officials in the U.S. House to see this process through. By the end of this year, we hope to have an improved immigration system that restores order and promotes human dignity.”

Maria Cabrera, who cleans houses to support her son and two younger daughters, both U.S. citizens, came to the United States 14 years ago from Veracruz. Maria, who speaks limited English, had followed her former husband – a construction worker who helped to build Paul Brown Stadium – and brought Jose, who was only 4.

“The ones who deserve this chance most are our elders,” said Jose, “they took the risk because they wanted to feed us and work hard to give us a better life.”

Under the Senate bill approved Thursday, border crossings from Mexico in the U.S. Southwest would become more difficult. The bill calls for spending $30 million, a provision added to the bill Wednesday to win Republican votes, on doubling the number of border patrol agents and adding miles of fencing and drone surveillance and sensors.

Supporters in the Senate and around the country referenced a Congressional Budget Office report that the legislation would increase the gross domestic product by 3.3 percent by 2023, and by 5.4 percent by 2033. The CBO said it would also lower the federal deficit by $197 billion over the first 10 years, and $700 billion over the next 20 years.

Ohio Sen. Brown pointed to the bill’s financial benefits in a statement, in which he said, “This historic bill is about fixing a broken immigration system so that everyone plays by the same rules. This bill would strengthen our borders, put American workers and businesses first, and create jobs right here at home.”

Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky is home to an estimated 25,000 to 35,000 unauthorized immigrants, most from Mexico with significant communities of Guatemalans mixed in. About 55,000 people termed Hispanics by the Census live in the region.

The Hispanic Chamber Cincinnati USA, citing a pair of recent University of Cincinnati demographic studies, estimates that providing a legal pathway to citizenship for those 25,000 to 35,000 people would create an economic impact of $450 million.

“It would encourage them to get better jobs and earn more and even more in taxes,” said Alfonso Cornejo, Hispanic Chamber president. “They would buy bigger houses and newer cars. You just need to take the handcuffs off people who are now just surviving and hiding.”

The Senate bill as passed, he said, would create more opportunities for higher-skilled workers such as engineers and those who are lesser skilled, such as agricultural and construction workers.

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