Mary Sanchez

Immigrants and CEOs agree: The U.S. needs immigration reform

Updated: 2013-12-05T05:27:10Z

By MARY SANCHEZ

The Kansas City Star

Maria Mayela Urizar has allies she doesn’t suspect.

She was among those breaking a two-day fast this week, an effort calling for immigration reform.

She’d been dizzy. Working at a local Panera, she smelled the freshly baked loaves and her hunger grew, surrounded by food all day.

By Tuesday night, she was depleted and the tears came as she clutched the bread roll she’d been handed as part of a ceremonial breaking of the fast.

“In a big, beautiful country like this, how can the leaders not see what is happening?” the native of Mexico implored. “It’s not a game. People come to this country not for fun, to take advantage, but to work.”

What Urizar didn’t realize is that more than a hundred of the nation’s CEOs met recently for an annual forum sponsored by The Wall Street Journal.

The business executives agree with her.

The CEO Council discussed a range of issues with President Barack Obama, among other leaders. After breaking into groups, they reconvened for a vote, choosing top priorities. Immigration reform ranked No. 1, ahead of education and tax reform. The No. 4 pick — business-government cooperation — emphasized what the executives see as a problem of achieving the first three goals.

The Senate passed a bipartisan comprehensive immigration bill this year. The Republican-led House never took it up for a vote.

Here is how the CEOs defined their focus: “The U.S. needs immigration reform to retain talented foreign workers who have been educated in the U.S., attract talent to the U.S. and allow a freer flow of people into and out of the U.S. Immigration policy should mirror labor needs.”

The statement doesn’t convey the humanitarian emphasis on families that is the focus of religious and justice-based efforts that have advocates fasting across the nation to press for reform. But the approaches are not mutually exclusive, a fact Urizar outlines.

Her husband is from Guatemala. Unlike so many others, they both have gained legal status to work, but the type of visa they hold doesn’t allow for travel outside the U.S. Her husband wasn’t able to be with his mother in Guatemala during her last days and funeral in October.

“The benefits to this country are very real,” she said of reform, “for families and for the economy.”

The problem is, no matter who is saying it, pleas for immigration reform are falling on the same complacent ears in Congress.

To reach Mary Sanchez, call 816-234-4752 or send email to msanchez@kcstar.com.

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