By Emily Crowe
Immigration reform was the hot topic at Friday’s town hall meeting with U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce in Portales.
About 40 area residents, many representing the Somos Un Pueblo Unido immigrant group, gathered at the Yam Theater as Pearce answered questions from his constituents.
While several concerned citizens posed questions about the Affordable Care Act and the economy, the conversation kept returning to legal and illegal immigrants living in eastern New Mexico.
“Legal immigration is a very necessary process,” said Pearce, a Republican who represents District 2, when questioned by a mother of two who said her husband works for a local dairy and her children live in fear because she is an illegal immigrant. “Legal immigration is very important.”
Pearce held firm to his stance that the path forward on reform is not necessarily granting citizenship or amnesty to illegal immigrants currently living in the U.S., but through guest worker permits that allow those from other countries to live and work in the U.S., but not gain citizenship.
“The citizenship line should begin in your country,” he said. “It’s a basic question of fairness to me. What is fair about those people who waited 18 years to come here legally?”
According to the Pew Hispanic Center, there were approximately 85,000 illegal immigrants living in New Mexico as of 2010.
“Our office works on probably more immigration questions than any office in the country,” he said. “We want legal immigration. We want legal processing.”
Marina Pina, who was among the Somos Un Pueblo Unido representatives, told Pearce her group wants a politician to help build policy for the citizenship of illegal immigrants.
The group, founded in 1995 to protect and expand immigrants’ rights in New Mexico, has a membership of over 2,300 people across the state.
“We’re asking for you to take leadership for New Mexicans,” she said. “For people who work at the dairies, for people who work at the peanut factory, for people who work your oil fields.”
While Pearce contended that he is not comfortable with legislation that would allow amnesty for illegal immigrants, he said he remains steadfast in finding a way to make legal immigration work.
“I am pushing to say let’s cure it,” he said.
When asked about members of Congress opting out of the Affordable Care Act, Pearce said he thinks it is an atrocious bill, but Congress should abide by it until it is changed.