Fighting For Immigration Reform - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather

Fighting For Immigration Reform

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YAKIMA, wash.--Saturday night in Granger, members of the state-wide organization "OneAmerica" are sitting down with the public to talk openly about immigration reform.

"Nobody understood why it was going on," said Cassandra Arellano. "Nobody understood why they woke up to guns pointed at them, and it was really hard because we were just in high school knowing that my friends weren't going to have parents."

Arellano gets emotional when she remembers the 2011 massive immigration raid in Ellensburg, forever known as the "ICE storm." Arellano's experiences led her to OneAmerica. The organization is pushing for comprehensive immigration reform, all while championing for the rights of minorities.

"They're American in every way other than they lack nine numbers," said Richard Hartwell.

"I was born here," said Arellano. "I was born in Yakima. I was born in Memorial Hospital. Most of us were born here."

But members of OneAmerica say immigration reform isn't just about fairness. It's also about saving the economy. The Executive Director of the Washington Growers League, Mike Gempler said over 50 percent of the agricultural workforce is undocumented. In addition to that, the industry has already seen a labor shortage for the past several years.

"So were very very exposed," said Gempler. "When there is a mandatory 'E-Verify' at the time of hire imposed on American employers that would wipe us out."

"If we took the undocumented people out of the Valley there would be no commerce," said Hartwell. "We would be a shell. The farmers can't survive without these people, they're skilled people."

Gempler said the worker shortage has already affected future business opportunities.

"We have a growing industry," said Gempler. "We have people that want to make investments who aren't because they're uncertain about whether we'll have an adequate labor force."

"If there isn't a stable workforce, our economy will suffer," said Rich Stolz, the Executive Director of OneAmerica.

Members of OneAmerica said they're hopeful that 2013 will be the year for reform.

Stolz said a lot of things changed in D.C. during this year's election, when near record levels of Latino voters came out to vote.