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Hispanic leader: Vote was Americans’ will

IPFW professor thinks House will feel pressure to act

The U.S. Senate and its constituents are speaking the same language on immigration policy, according to a local Hispanic leader.

“It’s not just that the Senate has voted in the direction of what the people want, it is that the United States people are precisely asking for these types of fixes to the immigration system,” Max Montesino said Thursday after the Senate approved legislation to boost border security and lay out a 13-year path for citizenship.

“We’ve never had this type of consensus before,” he said.

Montesino, a native of the Dominican Republic, is president of the board of the Hispanic Leadership Coalition of Northeast Indiana. The IPFW professor of organizational leadership said the Democratic Senate’s overwhelming endorsement of the immigration bill – the vote was 68-32 – should get the attention of the Republican House.

“The House represents the people, and the people want comprehensive immigration reform,” he said. “Given the strength of border security that finally the Senate bill included, I believe that the House has to do something in that direction.”

Rep. Luke Messer, R-6th, said in a statement: “The Senate immigration bill that passed today is just the beginning of this legislative debate. Our immigration system is badly broken and in need of repair. There is an opportunity for reform this summer.”

As they had on most amendments and procedures related to the immigration bill, Indiana’s senators split their votes Thursday. Democrat Joe Donnelly supported the legislation, and Republican Dan Coats opposed it.

“What was critical to me was that we have the strongest border security in the history of our nation,” Donnelly later told reporters about provisions to increase fencing, patrols and surveillance along the U.S.-Mexico border.

He also praised measures requiring illegal immigrants to pay fines and taxes, learn English and “go to the back of the line” of the immigration application process.

“It ends de facto amnesty,” Donnelly said in a conference call. “It ends 11 million people being in this country – we don’t know where they are, we don’t know who they are, and they are operating in effect off the grid. This provides a greater sense of safety for our nation.”

Coats said this week in a Fort Wayne visit and on the Senate floor that he wanted the legislation to require the Department of Homeland Security to verify the effectiveness of border protections over several months before immigration applications are processed.

“While there are some good measures in this legislation, the bill does not avert the fundamental mistake of the 1986 immigration reform act – granting legal status with only promises, not proven results, of border security,” Coats said in a statement after the vote.

Ohio’s senators also were divided on the bill, with Democrat Sherrod Brown voting for it and Republican Rob Portman voting against it. All of the 32 “no” votes were cast by Republicans, while 14 Republicans, 52 Democrats and two independents voted in favor.

Montesino said he believes the House and Senate can reach a satisfactory compromise.

“Hopefully when both chambers get some sort of agreement by the end of the year,” he said, “we will have a new immigration system that will be great.”