By Laura Militana
Congressman Diane Black is eager to have constituents in her district represented in Washington, D.C., so when the topic of immigration reform came up, she decided to get feedback from the numerous city and county officials about the issue.
This past Tuesday, Congressman Black received feedback from a number of local officials, including Cookeville Chief of Police Bob Terry, Cookeville-Putnam County Chamber CEO George Halford, Cookeville City Manager Jim Shipley, Cookeville Vice Mayor Larry Epps and city council member Connie Albrecht, Putnam County Sheriff David Andrews, Putnam County EMS Director Randy Porter, Director of Putnam County Schools Jerry Boyd, and TTU President Dr. Phil Oldham.
"Immigration reform is a comprehensive issue dealing with three levels," Congressman Black said. "First, we have to figure out how to secure the border. That's the same concern I've heard in the other round tables I've held. Second, we have to look at how people can legally come into the country. The process is long -- taking up to 8-10 years. We need to look at streamlining it. And third, we've got to look at the current illegal immigrant population in this country."
However, some industries -- notably the agriculture field -- do require immigrant workers -- which is where the reformation of the current worker visa program would come into play.
"There are a few law enforcement issues with immigrants as well," Congressman Black continued. "Mainly those deal with domestic issues and DUIs."
But when they have to call in ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), there is a good relationship there, she said.
She also noted that education is affected as well.
"The school systems have to deal with kids who have a real language barrier," she said. "It takes a lot of work to get those students up to speed and it affects the teacher's performance and the other students."
Boyd also noted that due to the law, teachers cannot ask students if they are legal or not.
"When they come in our door, we serve them," he said. "We don't ask any questions. We're not qualified to do that."
He said there are more than 1,000 Hispanic students in the system -- the largest minority group -- along with Saudis and others.
"We have a need for interpreters," he continued. "But just because they may be from Central or South America doesn't necessarily mean they speak Spanish."
With health care, the language barrier is also an issue.
"The ER staff are not equipped to handle Spanish-speaking people," Porter noted. "And because they change names, we never see them again and the taxpayers have to make up for those charges."
That is something Black has heard consistently throughout the other roundtables she has held.
And with that in mind, the name changes results in loss of reimbursement for the hospital.
"It's been very helpful to get this type of feedback," Congressman Black said. "So when this comes up in Congress, I can share their concerns and responses."