A State Senate panel assigned to study immigration issues in Missouri held its final meeting today in Jefferson City.
Some of the discussion focused on so-called “anti-immigrant” comments made on the House and Senate floors in recent years. Vanessa Crawford Aragon is Executive Director of Missouri Immigrant and Refugee Advocates. She told committee chair Senator John Lamping (R, Ladue) that inflammatory speeches by some lawmakers have made life harder for immigrants in Missouri and they need to tone it down.
“The conversations that happen here in the public discourse directly impact the way that immigrants are treated at the local level," Aragon said. Lamping responded, “What are you suggesting we do?” “I would suggest addressing it on a colleague-to-colleague level," Aragon said.
Lamping said that asking lawmakers to watch what they say borders on violating free speech rights.
Immigration advocates also expressed opposition to legislation that would require driver’s license exams be given in English only. Sister Peggy Bonnot runs El Puente Hispanic Ministry in Jefferson City. She told the panel that requiring English-only driver’s license tests would create a hardship for legal immigrants trying to build a life here.
“People have difficulty getting to church, they have difficulty getting to English classes, and also citizenship classes," Bonnot said. "We need to look at the broad picture and look at those things that are going to enhance our community.”
The Missouri Senate Blue Ribbon Panel on Immigration is expected to make a report to the full Senate before the start of the 2013 regular session.