As immigration reform discussions reach a critical juncture in Congress, immigrant rights advocates are asking small business owners in Clark County to express their support for a law that makes it easier for immigrants to gain citizenship.
So far, about 100 Clark County businesses have posted immigration reform fliers on their storefronts, activists from the Main Street Alliance said during a Thursday press conference in Vancouver.
The U.S. Senate passed an immigration reform bill late last month with about two-thirds of senators in support. The legislation would increase border security, provide a pathway to citizenship for many of the estimated 11 million immigrants illegally in the country, expand the highly skilled worker program, and set up new guest worker arrangements for lower-skilled workers and farm laborers.
It's unclear whether leaders in the House will bring a similar immigration reform bill forward.
During Thursday's press conference, Don Orange, owner of Hoesly Eco Automotive in Vancouver, said immigration reform activists have been working to put pressure on U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas, to support comprehensive immigration reform.
Herrera Beutler, a member of the House's Congressional Hispanic Conference, has said Republicans need to change their tone when discussing immigration issues. Her office was not available to comment Thursday.
"We want her to know that businesses in this country are endorsing a pathway to citizenship," Orange said. "Two-thirds of the Senate doing anything is an amazing thing, and it's time for the House to get something done."
Orange said he has been in contact with Herrera Beutler's office and that he's planning a trip to Washington, D.C., next week to meet with her on the subject.
In all, six immigration reform advocates spoke at Thursday's press conference. Jill Sughrue, of Sustain-NW in Vancouver, said that if immigrant laborers were able to boycott for a day, then Americans would see just how much they rely on immigrants.
"I don't think much of any work in this country would get done. Meat packers, farm laborers — it would be devastating," Sughrue said. "People would realize just how much we owe to immigrants — illegal immigrants, in fact."
Deborah Banks, owner of Elite Muscular Therapy in Vancouver, said it's time for the U.S. to support all of the people living within its borders.
"I've been in the community for almost 20 years, and I think we need to reform," Banks said. "A lot of undocumented workers are being exploited, and they are already in our community. They're bringing money to my business and a lot of other businesses around here, and we need to support them."
Main Street Alliance is a philosophically liberal organization with chapters in several states throughout the country. The group has started a Tumblr website, http://msavancouver.tumblr.com, that shows photos of Clark County businesses displaying their immigration reform fliers. The fliers include an image of the Statue of Liberty set against a green backdrop and the statement: "This business supports a road map to citizenship for our families, community and economy."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.