Two Valley congressmen from different parties found some common ground Monday on one of the most divisive issues facing the nation: Immigration reform.
Reps. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, and David Valadao, R-Hanford, told more than 80 people at a town hall meeting at Fresno City Hall that immigration reform is needed.
The Senate last week passed a bipartisan reform bill by a 68-32 vote, but it faces an uncertain future in the House of Representatives, where a number of leading Republicans have announced their opposition.
During Monday's two-hour town hall, hosted by Radio Bilingüe and broadcast live, Valadao gave Valley residents hope for what's ahead.
"I'm here to listen. I want to see immigration reform move forward that will be good for our district," he said.
Valadao said the Senate version of the bill is not likely to get a hearing in the House. He said fellow House members link the bill with "amnesty," but the first step to move the debate forward is to have an open dialogue.
"Once you talk to the members and explain to them it's a process, where they can work for it, appreciate it and someday become citizens -- just like my parents did -- most members begin to understand," Valadao said.
Costa, who has made clear his support for immigration reform, called it the "right thing to do for the dignity of mankind.
"We must give the 11 million people that are currently living in the shadow the opportunity they deserve to become a part of this great country of ours," Costa said.
Valadao's remarks surprised some in the audience, who expected the Hanford Republican to balk at reform.
Martha Cornejo of Fresno was one of them. She said she went to the forum to speak directly with the congressmen about the Senate's reform bill.
"I thought since Valadao is Republican he was going to be against it. But after listening to both, they inspired me," Cornejo said. "I know it's not going to be easy but we have to work together and move this bill forward."
The first hour of the bilingual forum provided a platform for residents to ask a panel questions about immigration reform and the Deferred Action for Children Arrivals program. The program does not grant legal residency, but accepted youths who meet the criteria receive a two-year reprieve from the threat of deportation, temporary authorization to work in the country and, in many states, the ability to apply for driver's licenses.
The panel included Diana Tellefson of the United Farm Workers Foundation, Fowler Mayor David Cardenas, and Santiago Avila-Gomez of California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, among others.
Earlier in the day, supporters of immigration reform held a news conference outside of Costa's Fresno office to thank him for supporting reform, and to urge him to keep pressing to get it passed.
Clarita Cortes, the community outreach coordinator for the United Farm Workers Foundation, spoke at a podium with signs held up behind her that read "Keep Families Together" and "Thank you" directed at Costa for his immigration reform support.
Farmworkers are the backbone of the agriculture industry, Cortes said. Children brought by their farmworker parents to the United States at a young age know this as their home and live in fear of being deported.
The Senate bill includes a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, increasing border security by completing a 700-mile fence and adding more border security officers. Young undocumented immigrants who entered the U.S. as children could receive a green card in five years.
This is what Olga Solorio has striven for to help her students. She is a volunteer with Organizing for Action -- the group that organized Monday's news conference -- and a teacher at Annie R. Mitchell Elementary School in Visalia.
Solorio said she told the mother of one of her second-grade students how bright the child was, and how the girl had the potential to some day go to college.
The child's mother said college isn't an option because she is not a citizen, and her daughter will grow up to work in the fields.
"That just broke my heart because I could see the potential in this little girl," Solorio said.
Solorio said that child was just one example of students who can't get financial aid or who face other barriers because of their residency status.