The immigration debate

Panel discussion will focus on the impact of immigrants in southern states

Sergio Flores, then 9, center, and his mother Adela Cervantes, at right, participate in a march through downtown Gainesville for fair immigration reform in 2006.

Doug Finger/Staff photographer/2006 file
Published: Saturday, January 21, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 20, 2012 at 6:49 p.m.

The League of Women Voters of Alachua County/Gainesville and the Hispanic Advisory Council of St. Augustine Church will host a panel and open debate on immigration at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.


If you go

What: “Unauthorized Immigration in the South,” a panel discussion with Philip J. Williams and Manuel Vasquez, University of Florida professors and co-authors of “Living ‘Illegal’”, and Robin Lewy with the Rural Women’s Health Project.
When: 7:30 p.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Hurley House at St. Augustine Church and Catholic Student Center. Free parking is available at the church lot on Northwest First Avenue between Northwest 17th and 18th streets. Hurley House is the two-story building inside the lot.
Cost: Free

“Unauthorized Immigration in the South” will focus on the impact in southern states of the influx of immigrants.

Kathy Kidder, president of the League of Women Voters of Alachua County, said the purpose of the discussion is to educate voters as well as advocate the human side of the issue.

“The issue is that we seem to need them as a labor force, but we haven’t given them a path,” Kidder said.

In April 2010, Arizona’s state legislature created an unprecedented law that requires law enforcement officials to check for immigration status while enforcing other laws and making it a misdemeanor for residents not to carry a valid ID.

The Florida Legislature tried to pass two bills during last year’s legislative session that would have required law enforcement officials and employers to check people’s immigration status with the federal E-verify program.

Florida’s tourism and agriculture industries objected and there were public protests throughout the state.

In May 2011, after a 60-day debate session, the House and Senate were unable to reach a consensus, and the bills died.

The upcoming presidential elections will likely make immigration a major issue once again.

Philip J. Williams and Manuel Vasquez, University of Florida professors and co-authors of “Living ‘Illegal’: The Human Face of Unauthorized Immigration,” will discuss case studies in South Florida and Georgia on immigrant and farm worker families.

Robin Lewy, who is co-founder and co-director of the Rural Women’s Health Project, will share her experiences promoting health among immigrant women in North Florida for more than 20 years.

Education has been at the heart of Robin Lewy’s work with the Rural Women’s Health Project, which she helped create. Last year, 43 volunteers were able to educate 1,200 women about the signs and risks of breast cancer. The triumph for the organization was one among many disheartening moments, she said.

“The struggle to help women, whether they are documented or not, has been a painstaking project,” said Lewy, whose organization works in seven counties. “It has taken dozens and dozens of hours to get funding to deal with hospitals.”

A question-and-answer period will follow speaker presentations at Hurley House at St. Augustine’s, 1738 W. University Ave.

Vasquez said he hopes the event engages the audience on the issues that in recent years were a “very black and white discussion.” Vasquez, who emigrated from El Salvador to study at Georgetown University, now teaches in UF’s Department of Religion.

The authors call “Living ‘Illegal’,” which was published last year, a “crossover” from an academic study of immigration reform to a more humanistic case study of the real-life problems that undocumented residents in the South grapple with.

Williams’ first encounter with undocumented residents was in Los Angeles in the 1980s, when he worked as a youth minister at an Episcopal church helping undocumented workers gain citizenship during the last large immigration reform.

“Churches have found themselves on the front lines,” Williams said. “They have a mission to help strangers, and they don’t ask for your papers at the door.”

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