"Sonny's Corner" is a regular column in Prairie Fire, featuring commentary on civil rights and justice issues. Our friend and Omaha colleague, Joseph P. "Sonny" Foster, died suddenly at age 54 in August 2005. He left an uncompleted agenda, as did many of our civil rights and justice mentors and heroes. We shall attempt to move forward on that unfinished agenda through this column.
Editor’s Note: In 2013 the Nebraska Coalition for Immigration Reform, in partnership with Prairie Fire, conducted a series of forums in five Nebraska communities to learn how they coped with the challenges and opportunities offered by growing immigrant populations. Following each forum, an essay was published in Prairie Fire summarizing the conclusions and recommendations of the forum participants. After completion of all forums, the results were summarized in a final report titled Immigration in Nebraska, Part II.
This report recommended several actions for consideration by the Nebraska Legislature, and the most urgent of these was that they go on record in support of reforming our outdated immigration laws and recommend that the United States Congress enact immigration reform legislation.
There was broad bipartisan support for this in the Nebraska Legislature, and Senator Wightman, with the support of six other Republican and seven Democratic senators, introduced resolution LR 399. The resolution was placed on the agenda for consideration by the Legislature on April 10, 2014, and, after extensive debate, the majority voted to enact LR 399 as drafted. The resolution as enacted is quoted below.
ONE HUNDRED THIRD LEGISLATURE
LEGISLATIVE RESOLUTION 399
Introduced by Wightman, 36; Ashford, 20; Campbell, 25; Chambers, 11; Conrad, 46; Davis, 43; Gloor, 35; Hansen, 42; Harms, 48; Howard, 9; McGill, 26; Nordquist, 7; Schumacher, 22; Mello, 5; Cook, 13.
WHEREAS, the Legislature recognizes that our federal immigration laws are long outdated, causing harm to families, businesses, and communities; and
WHEREAS, common-sense reforms that modernize our outdated immigration laws and that are sensible, fair, and practical are necessary to protect our borders and create a strong foundation for our economy and society; and
WHEREAS, immigration has always been an important part of the social and economic fabric of the United States, and it is in the best interest of all that our nation’s immigration laws be kept up-to-date; and
WHEREAS, although com–prehensive immigration reform is a federal and not a state matter, the State of Nebraska has legitimate interests in the passage of effective immigration laws at the federal level; and
WHEREAS, Nebraska’s towns and cities have experienced significant growth in immigrant population in the last two decades which has helped the state maintain its population; and
WHEREAS, Nebraska com-munity leaders, educators, business owners, cattlemen, farmers, and the immigrant community have recognized that while some challenges are created by integrating new immigrant Nebraskans, the positive impacts of immigration, including eco-nomic development, tax collections, and cultural di-versity, exceed the costs of resolving these challenges, demonstrated by the fact that many communities with significant immigrant populations are thriving unlike many of those communities which have not attracted immigrants; and
WHEREAS, Nebraska pop-ulation trends indicate a future shortage of needed and qualified labor in agriculture and the skilled trades and a shortage of professionally-trained workers in our rural communities; and
WHEREAS, pending legis-lation is before the United States Congress which would accomplish comprehensive immigration reform.
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE MEMBERS OF THE ONE HUNDRED
THIRD LEGISLATURE OF NEBRASKA, SECOND SESSION:
1. That the Legislature recommends that the Nebraska congressional delegation take affirmative action to enact comprehensive immigration reform to update our immi-gration system.
2. That such reform enacted by Congress should recognize the need to protect the borders of the United States, maintain respect for the law, embody fairness, and protect families.
3. That such reform should recognize the important role that immigrant Americans play as entrepreneurs, work-ers, taxpayers, and family members.
4. That such reform should protect agriculture, small businesses, and working Ne-braskans and facilitate in-creases in the labor market and the professions necessary to protect rural communities from further economic decline.
5. That the Legislature recommends that in order to ensure adequate labor re-sources to support economic growth and stability, the House of Representatives should pass H.R. 15, the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act,” as approved by the United States Senate, or alternatively should enact similar legislation in 2014 which embodies the principles and needs outlined in this resolution.
6. That a copy of this resolution be delivered to the President of the United States, to the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, to the President of the United States Senate, and to each member of the Nebraska congressional delegation.