YAKIMA — Washington joined a handful of other states with a compact in support of immigration reform Tuesday, marking another effort by states to push Congress to overhaul U.S. immigration policies.
The compact, signed by a coalition of more than 40 agriculture, business and faith entities, calls for sensible policies that meet the needs of Washington residents and create a fair path to legal status for illegal immigrants.
The compact includes five principles for keeping families together, ensuring a strong economy and focusing local law enforcement efforts on criminal activities, rather than civil violations of federal code, such as immigration violations.
Similar compacts have been created in Arizona, Texas, Iowa, Colorado and Utah.
Much like those states, though, the Washington state compact offered scant details about what should be included in reform legislation.
The purpose of the compact is not to get into the details of immigration reform, but to promote the values that are essential in resolving the issue and give Congress a push, said former congressman Sid Morrison, a Republican who represented Washington’s 4th District from 1980-1992.
The district includes the heavily agricultural Yakima Valley and the larger Columbia River Basin, where thousands of immigrants labor in farm fields, fruit warehouses and vegetable processing plants.
“Being a lifelong part of this valley, I know that they reflect the values of many of the folks who have come here, with good intent, lived the American dream, better themselves, feed their families, and yet were illegal.”
Supporters of the compact include the Washington Association of Business, the Washington Growers League and the King County sheriff.
Resolving the issue is the federal government’s responsibility, but the compact offers a set of principles that members of Congress should consider as they debate any legislation, said Mike Gempler, executive director of the Washington Growers League.
Making it harder for people to immigrate illegally — and easier for people to immigrate legally — will go a long way toward fixing the problem, he said.
But any solution, he said, must include provisions that protect the U.S. and Washington state economies, whether the issue is the general size of the workforce or the need for seasonal workers for agriculture.
“Any bill that is passed into law must consider what kind of workforce is needed for our economy for the future, and how we will achieve it,” he said.
Marisol Guerrero, 36, traveled from Sunnyside to Yakima for the announcement with her two children, 7-year-old Ashley and 4-year-old Bryan.
“It’s important for me to see reform, so that students can achieve their dreams,” she said. “I’m a single mom and I’m the only one who is going to support my kids when they need me.”
While in Congress, Morrison co-authored legislation to reform U.S. immigration policies 27 years ago. That bill passed the House, but failed in the Senate.
Morrison said he believes immigration issues could have been resolved then. He now serves on the boards of Central Washington University and Energy Northwest, the public-power consortium that operates the Northwest’s only commercial nuclear reactor.
Washington state hires more college graduates than any other state, but graduates fewer of its own citizens, he said.
“We’re kidding ourselves by not looking at the resource we have here in people,” Morrison said.
Ridding these people of the “illegal cloud” enables them to be trained as documented workers, he said, adding, “These are some of the best workers in the world, no matter what they pursue.”