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Business, faith leaders call for Senator Joe Donnelly to support immigration reform

June 4, 2013 | Indianapolis Star| Link to Article

Janett Orozco came to the United States with her parents when she was a baby, just 1½ years old.

Now 15, she lives in Indianapolis and attends Arsenal Technical High School — far away from her native Mexico.

But she remains an undocumented immigrant.

That’s why Orozco is keeping a watchful eye on a massive immigration reform bill that would allow people like her, who came into the country illegally before 2012, to obtain earned citizenship. The bill, which is up for debate in the full Senate this month, was the topic of discussion at a meeting that Orozco and about 60 others attended with business and faith leaders Tuesday in Downtown Indianapolis.

Their goal: Try and persuade Senator Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) to support the bill. A representative for Donnelly attended the meeting at Eli Lilly & Co. headquarters, though Donnelly did not attend. The meeting was organized by a nonprofit called the Indianapolis Congregation Action Network.

Several speakers said they thought the U.S. has a long history of using foreign-born workers, and that they are crucial to keep the economy and businesses moving.

“We are a nation of immigrants,” said Michael O’Connor, director of state government affairs for Eli Lilly. “Our strength is built on the fact that we brought diverse backgrounds” together, he said, and allowed them to work.

The bill, he said, could provide a “national solution to a broken system.”

In Indiana, the immigrant population has grown by more than 200,000 since 1990, according to data provided at the meeting from the Immigration Policy Center. That year, the population stood at slightly more than 94,000. In 2011, it had grown to more than 307,000.

That means immigrants account for nearly five percent of the state’s population. State officials estimated in 2012 that illegal immigrants cost Indiana $130 million, mainly for education and health care costs.

Pierre Atlas, director of the Richard G. Lugar Franciscan Center for Global Studies at Marian University, presented the data. He said America is bipolar when it comes to immigration.

Sometimes it is welcome, he said, but change can also be jarring to some Americans.

“The fear and distress of foreigners is as old as America itself,” he said.

A representative for Donnelly relayed media questions to a spokeswoman, who could not be reached.

Organizers of the meeting said they hoped Donnelly will listen to their concerns, even though he wasn’t there.

“It’s not just that we will assume his representative will carry it back,” said Carolyn Higginbotham, office manager at the Indianapolis Congregation Action Network. “We’re going to follow up.”

Follow Star reporter Michael Boren at Twitter.com/borenmc or call him at (317) 444-6138.