Broad coalition seeks strong push on immigration reform
Washington compact unites religious, business interests
By DAN WHEAT
YAKIMA, Wash. -- A new coalition of agricultural, religious and business interests in Washington is pushing immigration reform.
Leaders of the effort signed a statement of principles, called the Washington Compact, in Yakima on March 5.
The coalition is separate and broader than agricultural labor reform pushed by the American Farm Bureau Federation and other members of the Agricultural Workforce Coalition, said Mike Gempler, executive director of Washington Growers League in Yakima and one of compact signatories.
The AWC is concerned with the agricultural component of immigration reform and the Washington Compact wants comprehensive immigration reform with issues handled simultaneously rather than piecemeal, Gempler said.
Don Brunell, president of the Washington Association of Business, and former 4th District Congressman Sid Morrison, R-Zillah, signed the compact with Gempler.
One America With Justice for All, an anti-discrimination and immigration advocacy group in Seattle, and Washington Growers League built the coalition as a result of meetings of the National Immigration Forum last summer, Gempler said.
Similar coalitions have been formed in other states including California, Texas, Utah, Colorado and Indiana. The Washington and California coalitions claim strong support of evangelical Christians and chambers of commerce.
A bipartisan comprehensive immigration bill in the Senate contains good aspects, but the Washington coalition is avoiding endorsing specific approaches to give legislators room to move, Gempler said.
"There are plenty of differences within the coalition among people who are more informed or interested in one item or another," he said.
Washington Compact is concerned with assimilation of illegal immigrants via a "fair path to legal status," keeping families together, leaving immigration policy and enforcement to the federal government not states, recognizing economic contributions of immigrants and a "spirit of inclusion" that "welcomes people of goodwill."
The coalition does not address whether fines or some sort of payment for illegal entry is part of a fair path to legalization. "We leave that up to Congress," Gempler said.
Similarly, the coalition does not address proposals for a new foreign guestworker program, although Gempler said the coalition supports a legal agricultural workforce now and in the future. That probably includes legalizing workers here and providing better means to access foreign workers, he said.
"The movement of enforcement of immigration laws at the state level only exacerbates the problem and doesn't help the economy," Gempler said. "It's time to move past that and get this done. It's good politically for both parties."
Members of the coalition include state associations or commissions of wine grape growers, asparagus, blueberries, potatoes, dairy and the Washington Growers Clearing House Association. Individual backers include West Mathison, president of Stemilt Growers Inc.; and Dale Foreman, owner of Foreman Fruit Co. Business backers include Broetje Orchards, Edgewater Orchards and Willow Drive Nursery.