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Panel talks immigration reform in Geneva

GENEVA – Having been born just a few miles away from the Texas-Mexico border, Noel Castellanos knows how his life could have been different had he been born in Mexico instead of in the United States.

The pastor and CEO of the Christian Community Development Association said he has worked to improve the lives of his fellow Mexican-Americans. But none of his efforts could fix problems stemming from immigration issues, he said.

“The problem was the laws in place in our country are very, very broken,” Castellanos said.

Castellanos, along with five other panelists, addressed immigration reform Tuesday night during a forum at St. Mark’s Church in Geneva. It was co-sponsored by the Bibles, Badges & Business for Immigration Reform Network; the Illinois Business Immigration Coalition; the U.S. Chamber of Commerce-Great Lakes Region; the Christian Community Development Association; and World Relief DuPage/Aurora.

Panelist Kane County Sheriff Pat Perez, whose grandparents came from Mexico and Yugoslavia, said he doesn’t have tolerance for those who come to the United States to commit such “acts of evil” as selling illegal drugs. For those who are entering the country for more noble purposes, such as wanting to provide a better life for their family, he said he is encouraged by forums like Tuesday’s.

“I think the engagement we have here is the first step of the solution,” Perez said.

From a law enforcement perspective, Perez said it is common for people to mistakenly believe authorities can jail those who are here illegally and deport them. That, he said, is a civil offense – not a criminal one.

Noting the county jail is usually filled to capacity, he added, “Where would I put the people who are here illegally?”

Although proposed legislation was alluded to, the panelists talked more in broader terms, not specific solutions. Batavia resident Yvonne Dinwiddie pointed that out.

“I heard no proposals here tonight,” she said.

She offered her solution for immigration reform: have immigrants register with their employer.

Ben Taylor, director of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce-Great Lakes Region, said her idea was similar to the E-Verify employment verification system in proposed legislation.

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