Forum explores immigration as a regional issue

SARANAC LAKE – Immigration promises to be a hot topic in Washington this summer. Last month the Senate’s “Gang of Eight” released new immigration reform legislation, next month the House is expected to produce its own bipartisan package, and with the President prodding the issue forward, the differences between the two are expected to create more fireworks than the Fourth of July.

Meanwhile, a Saranac Lake group is preparing for a more civilized immigration debate. As the latest installment of the group’s free public forum series, the social justice committee at the Adirondack Unitarian Universalist Community is bringing experts together to talk about the local and regional implications of immigration and foreign labor.

“People in our communities mostly think that immigration doesn’t concern them, but our group has come to the realization that it touches every one of us, every day,” committee chair Courtney Miller said in a press release. “Our food, our neighboring farms, our regional economy, it is all impacted by the ebb and flow of migrant laborers.”

The topic brings together a particularly varied group of panelists. Martino Gonzalez de Videa travels the state for the Worker Justice Center of New York, providing education and advocacy for low wage and disenfranchised workers. He joins Ralph Child, operator of Childstock Farm in Malone, and Rick LeVitre, executive director of the Cornell Cooperative Extension in Franklin County.

The social justice committee contacted Child, a local seed potato farmer, remembering that he raised immigration reform issues when addressing the House agriculture committee during field hearings for the federal farm bill, last year.

“It’s a concern for a lot of farmers in the area,” Child said. “This is a busy season for us-hard to get away and do something like this on a dry day-but I do believe that more people need to think about the issue.”

“A lot gets lost in discussions about border patrols and quotas”, said committee member Adrien Vlach. “There’s so much vulnerability in the system we have. Right now, immigration is at the intersection of economy and ethics, politics and consumer culture. We want to have a nuanced conversation about what is clearly a complicated issue.”

North Country Public Radio’s David Sommerstein, who has reported extensively on immigration issues on area dairy farms, will moderate. The forum begins at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday in the John Black room at the Historic Saranac Laboratory, 89 Church St.

An informal reception begins at 8 p.m.

The event is free.