Advocates gather in Dodge City to discuss immigration

March 2, 2012 by

     “We are a nation of immigrants. I think we forget that. Mine were German immigrants in the 1880s. If we told those stories more, if we remembered that, we might become more welcoming. “

— Kathy Denhardt,
mobility manager for Dodge City and Ford County

DODGE CITY — Nearly three dozen people from throughout southwest Kansas packed a meeting room in the Catholic cathedral in Dodge City Thursday afternoon, all with the same question: How can we better ensure that immigrants are treated fairly and humanely?

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The Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia had organized the meeting to bring together representatives from social service agencies, religious congregations, city governments, political entities and the community college as well as individuals who advocate for immigrant rights.

But, as organizer Cheryl Lyn Higgins pointed out at the beginning of the meeting, the Concordia-based congregation of Catholic women doesn’t presume to have all the answers.

“Our goal is to become better informed advocates for our brothers and sisters, whether documented or undocumented,” she said. “I believe, collectively, we can generate the outcome we all want to see.”

Higgins, who is coordinator of the sisters’ Neighborhood Initiatives office in Concordia, had organized a similar meeting in Salina in January.

Both meetings come on the heels of the congregation’s unanimous support last November for a “statement on immigration” that calls for a comprehensive national immigration policy, including:

  • A pathway to lawful permanent residency and citizenship for the undocumented persons currently living in the United States;
  • A process to reduce the backlog of family visas in order to ensure family unity and reunification;
  • A guest worker program that ensures labor protections and equitable wages;
  • A border security and enforcement policy that is humane; and
  • A process whereby undocumented students living in the United States can earn a college degree and become gainfully employed.

Higgins and the other members of the congregation’s immigration committee — Sisters Esther Pineda, Anna Marie Broxterman and Judy Stephens — handed out copies of the statement during Thursday’s Dodge City meeting.

Many participants had ideas on what needs to happen, particularly in southwest Kansas where the Hispanic population is continuing to grow.

Garden City Mayor John Doll said that a pressing need is a local immigration office.

“People now have to go to Wichita or Kansas City,” Doll said. “Having services available here is a key.”

For Maria Musick of Dodge City, another key is learning about the immigration issue “so we can tell the difference between fact and myth.”

Johnny Dunlap, chairman of the Ford County Democratic Party and a representative of the League of United Latin American Citizens, agreed — but he added that action is also needed.

“We need to raise awareness on the hearings (legislative) in Topeka and in D.C.,” he said. “We need to inform our communities and immigrants so that they may speak against  (proposed anti-immigrant legislation).”

Sister Esther Pineda, who was in Topeka during February for hearings at the Capitol, reported to the group on the status of several bills being considered by the state Legislature.

She urged the group to pay particular attention to House Bill 2576, the so-called “Anti-Harboring Bill,” as well as House Bill 2712, a measure that would require the Kansas Department of Labor to identify labor shortages and then create something of a “guest worker” program to help eliminate those shortages. The bill, which was drafted by a coalition that includes agriculture groups and the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, has drawn strong support from immigrant rights advocates across the state and equally strong opposition from Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and others.

Arturo Ponce, who works with the United Methodist Mexican American Ministries in Liberal, said that three elements are needed to advocate for immigrant rights: collaboration, cooperation and communication.

“This meeting, bringing us all together, is an example of all three,” Ponce said.

But Robert Vinton, ESL/migrant director for USD 443, expressed concern that more needs to be done.     “There hasn’t been an adequate response from this country that allows immigrants to stay,” he said. “In 20 or 30 years from now, these people are going to become people we’re going to need to depend on. They can become lawyers or doctors. We as a country have been fighting it, but at some point we have to see that it’s reality.”

At the end of the two-hour session Higgins said the sisters’ Immigration Committee is compiling all the information and ideas from both this meeting and the earlier one in Salina, as a first step in an action plan. “What I’m hearing today is that we need to be more vocal,” she said.

 

 

 

Comments

One Response to “Advocates gather in Dodge City to discuss immigration”

  1. Loretta A. Jasper csj on March 8th, 2012 5:39 pm

    One more link in various contingencies coming together on behalf of the untended needs of our undocumented brothers and sisters who continue to be viable citizens within their local communities within the State of Kansas.
    Increased awareness; increased response; increased solution….

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