Reform group rallies in Pasco

A group of immigration reform supporters rallied Tuesday afternoon outside the Pasco office of U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings.

Hastings was one of four Republican members of Congress from Washington state targeted by OneAmerica, a Seattle-based organization that wants a path to citizenship for 11 million immigrants living in the country illegally.

A bill that would create a 13-year path to citizenship passed the U.S. Senate last month. Speaker John Boehner has said the House of Representatives will not take up that bill, and will instead work on its own proposal.

At Hastings' office near Tri-Cities Airport, 11 adults and five children held signs with Hastings' picture that read "Our Families are Counting on You," as well as "No mas temor! (no more fear)."

Supporters also brought a letter for Hastings claiming broad public support for a path to citizenship. It quotes Congressional Budget Office figures that show that comprehensive immigration reform would lead to a $175 billion reduction in the federal deficit over 10 years.

A recent New York Times report showed Hastings' congressional district includes the 10th-heaviest Hispanic population (37 percent) of any Republican district in the House. His district is the only one in the Northwest with a Hispanic population of more than 25 percent.

Mary Lopez of Walla Walla, who organized the rally for OneAmerica, said Hastings should learn from last year's presidential election, in which President Barack Obama received 71 percent of the Latino vote, compared to 27 percent for Republican nominee Mitt Romney.

Former President George W. Bush received 44 percent of the Latino vote in his 2004 reelection.

"We want him to know that the people are not going to stop fighting until we get a path to citizenship," Lopez said of Hastings.

Charles Sargent of Kennewick, local representative for the Service Employees International Union, said failure to pass a comprehensive immigration package could have grave consequences for Mid-Columbia farm labor.

"If this bill doesn't go anywhere, you're going to have maybe some real strikes out in the fields," Sargent said. "If these people go on strike, (Hastings) is going to hear from these farms around here, which is his core support."

SEIU was a co-sponsor of the rally. Sargent attributed the low turnout to the fact that most Hispanics were busy working at its noon start time, and it was just organized Monday night.

Connie Pedroza of Kennewick once participated in rallies with farm labor leader Cesar Chavez, and Latinos must still fight for many of the same rights he did, she said.

"We are lucky, in a lot of ways, to have a lot of farms here, but after 60 years it's still a struggle to get decent wages," Pedroza said.

Similar rallies were planned Tuesday at the offices of Republican representatives Cathy McMorris Rodgers in Walla Walla and Spokane, Jaime Herrera Beutler in Vancouver and Dave Reichert in Issaquah.

The rallies were timed in advance of an internal Republican House meeting Wednesday on immigration, chaired by McMorris Rodgers, organizers said.

In a statement Tuesday, Hastings said immigration reform is a longtime priority of his. But he is concerned by a Congressional Budget Office estimate that the Senate's bill would only reduce illegal immigration by 25 percent.

Hastings wants to see a bill that ends illegal immigration, secures the border and creates a guest worker program, he said.

"Our national security is in jeopardy because our borders are not secure, and Central Washington's economy is at risk because farmers are not able to access the workers they need," Hastings said. "While I am pleased that the Senate has acted on a proposal that attempts to address these issues, I believe that a number of improvements must be made as the legislative process moves forward."

-- Geoff Folsom: 509-582-1543; gfolsom@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @GeoffFolsom