Immigration reform supporters turn up efforts in Bakersfield

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) Local supporters of immigration reform will turn up the heat. They want more lawmakers to vote for the bipartisan bill now being considered in Washington. Local Congressman Kevin McCarthy is one of their targets.

"We say it's about time to fix a broken immigration reform that made these people be undocumented because of the failure of the law to catch up with reality -- which is we have an economic demand for these workers," Gonzalo Santos said. He's with the Kern Coalition for Citizenship.

That group and the United Farm Workers held a rally Wednesday morning in downtown Bakersfield. It was one of several rallies as immigration supporters say they'll mobilize during the next three weeks behind Senate reform bill.

Santos said supporters have challenges ahead, but they also have some things to cheer about already.

"The vote that happened yesterday is historic," he said. That was the vote on Tuesday by a margin of 84-15 for the Senate to begin considering the bill. Even with that start, Santos says there are still challenges in the Senate, but yet more dangers in the House.

And, Santos said they've already seen setbacks in the House. "Last week the House signaled a terrible vote," he said. "So bad that it took us completely by surprise." That was a vote to prohibit funding for President Barack Obama's program which temporarily halts the deportation of young immigrants if they're going to college or served in the military.

Santos calls those young people the "dreamers." And he says McCarthy was one of the Republicans voting to stop the funding.

"We're downright appalled," he said. "This is so callous and so politically tone-deaf that we can't understand any more what's going on in the House with these folks."

In a statement emailed from McCarthy's office on Wednesday, he responded. "as our broken immigration system only continues to get worse, Americans are forced to pay the price. Credit goes to Senator (Marco) Rubio (R-Fla) and others for creating a starting point and the House, through regular order, will also produce legislation."

Santos is convinced public opinion favors immigration reform, and that support includes voters in McCarthy's district.

What do local voters think? In a spot check, Eyewitness News got mixed reaction.

"I think it's time to pass comprehensive immigration reform," Jeremiah Howe said.

"I think everybody should have a chance of being a United States citizen," Mark Keefer said. "I love this country."

But others worry about the impacts of immigration. "I think there's already enough people here," Scott MacCulloch said. "It's already kind of hard trying to get a job."

"You're trying to just open the door to any aliens that come in? I don't agree (with) that, no." Rudy Barrera said. "We need to tighten our borders and take care of all us U.S. Citizens the way we should."

Supporters of the immigration reform plan say it will be fair and comprehensive. Supporters also say the plan will stress border security. Santos stresses the bipartisan support, starting with the so-called "Gang of Eight" in Congress.

"We think it might heal a little bit the political polarization in this country," Santos said. "But more importantly, it's just." He calls the plan a compromise, and said it will include an "arduous" process for the 11 million undocumented people who are now in the U.S. to get citizenship.

In the email to Eyewitness News on Wednesday, McCarthy continued with comments on the issue. "Securing our borders, enforcing current laws on the books, and finding a real long-term solution to our immigration processes will help ensure that America remains home to the best and brightest minds, the hardest workers, and freest people on earth," it concluded.

Local immigration reform supporters say they will put McCarthy in their sights with a day of action this weekend. A UFW spokeswoman said volunteers will go out in McCarthy's district collecting postcards to urge him to vote for the immigration reform bill. They also say a group of nuns is making a cross-country tour in support of reform, and they will make a stop here. Santos said McCarthy will be the target of that, too.

"This Saturday we're going to target him with the religious leadership of this country," Santos said. "They're coming to Bakersfield to tell him, get on with the plan, have a heart, and move on."