Immigration a key issue in congressional forum
By Stephen Palkot Monday, October 9, 2006 11:57 AM CDT


Trying their best Spanish, a group of Fort Bend County candidates spoke to a largely Hispanic audience Saturday morning at Our Lady of Guadalupe in Rosenberg.

The event was organized by the non-profit group Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, and featured candidates for Fort Bend County races and the District 22 Congressional race. ACORN bills itself as a group addressing the interests of low- and middle-income families, and a Rosenberg chapter of the group has been formed.

Candidates' comments were translated into Spanish by the presenters.

Democrat Nick Lampson and Libertarian Bob Smither were asked to address prepared questions on topics from illegal immigration to predatory loans and municipal infrastructure.

Lampson, asked if he would support a comprehensive immigration plan, said he opposes amnesty but would support a measure similar to a proposal by U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas.

"Any path to citizenship must include the payment of all taxes and an effort to learn English," he said.

Father Lee Flores, pastor of the church, pressed Lampson for specifics, saying that immigration has "inflamed this nation" and has created a divide between the Hispanic and non-Hispanic populations.

"What do you propose? How can you bring them out from wherever they're hiding?," he asked Lampson.

Lampson said the issue must be addressed by "people who have empathy" for the situations of immigrants, and explained his Italian roots to the audience.

Without offering more detail on any immigration proposal, Lampson said "the deeper issue goes back to the lack of civility in our government." Lampson, a former U.S. representative from the Beaumont area, cited his creation of the Missing and Exploited Children caucus in the House of Representatives as an example of bringing parties together to solve complex issues.

"I asked to create a caucus, and I made that the largest issue-based caucus in the House of Representatives," he said.

He said he supports enforcing punishments for employers and companies that hire illegal immigrants, in order to remove the economic incentive for individuals to come to the United States illegally.

Smither said he supports a streamlining of the process for immigrants to reside in the United States legally.

"I believe we need to streamline the system to allow peaceful people - subject only to a background check and health check - to be able to come here peacefully and legally in order to work," he said.

Once that happens, said Smither, the country will benefit by knowing the people entering and by concentrating enforcement efforts on "people who want to do us harm," he said.

Republican candidate Shelley Sekula-Gibbs, who is running a write-in campaign, did not attend the event.

Several local candidates spoke, including Fort Bend County Treasurer candidates Neeta Sane, a Democrat, and Jeff Council, a Republican. One Hispanic candidate who attended, County Court-at-Law No. 1 candidate Rudy Velasquez, pointed out there are no Hispanics in any of the elected judicial positions in Fort Bend County.

"I think that's a disgrace," he said. ... news03.txt