Business leaders meet in Waukesha to talk immigration reform
Waukesha — Wisconsin business leaders joined a national call for immigration reform Wednesday in a news conference at Waukesha City Hall, but they fumbled for responses about specific policy measures they would support and expressed a mélange of viewpoints on the issue.
The conference was part of a coordinated effort by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and half a dozen business, manufacturing and agriculture organizations that held events in 25 states to urge Congress and the Obama administration to put together an immigration bill before the August recess.
George Klaetsch, a member of the Partnership for a New Economy, a conservative immigration reform group founded by former New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, emphasized the importance of framing immigration reform as an economic issue.
"Getting 11 million undocumented immigrants into the legal economy is more of a benefit than trying to figure out how to send all 11 million back," he said, citing a recent Partnership for a New Economy poll in which 65% of 855 likely voters in Wisconsin — including 59% of Republicans — supported legal status for illegal immigrants.
The Rev. Joe Angel Medina, chairman of the Wisconsin Assembly of Conservative Hispanics, said although he supported reform legislation, he would not back general amnesty.
"I don't believe in pardoning the undocumented immigrants," he said after the news conference. A better solution, he said, can be found in U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan's proposals, which focus on border security, a guest-worker program and a "one strike" process for illegal immigrants to apply for legal residency after a lengthy period of probation.
In response to a question about the influx of women and children at the U.S.-Mexico border, Orville Seymer, of the conservative group Citizens for Responsible Government, offered a metaphor: Imagine if a young immigrant knocked at your door and asked for food, he said. Most people would help, but what if more children started knocking?
"At some point, the cupboards are empty, the refrigerator is empty," he said. "At what point do we stop?"
The news conference took an unexpected turn when a Milwaukee businessman decried both political parties' failure to produce reform legislation and used a racial slur to describe President Barack Obama.
"This is the most useless Congress in the last eight years. You know why not? Because a (N-word) is in charge," said Dagoberto Ibarra, who ran for alderman in Milwaukee's 8th District in 2004.
Later, Ibarra said the slur did not represent his personal views. "I was making reference to what Republicans say," he said, apologizing for the comment.
Other speakers denounced Ibarra's inflammatory remark, saying they were unaware of the businessman's views and hadn't expected him to speak in the first place.
"The first four minutes of his speech were genuine, but his comments at the end were unplanned and unnecessary," Klaetsch said after the news conference.
Ibarra also accused Republicans of being Nazis and the tea party of being similar to the Ku Klux Klan, and he said Democrats had done nothing to fix the country's immigration laws.
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