Arizona immigration advocate speaks at Medford rally

ALatino leader in the controversy over immigration rights in Arizona will present a three-pronged approach to resolving the problem in a talk before a march to today's Medford Multicultural Fair.

Elias Bermudez, executive director of Health Center USA in Phoenix, says harsh new restrictions passed by the Arizona Legislature are helping no one on any side of the immigration debate and have caused half a million needed workers to leave the state.

Bermudez, a Republican, says he's trying to get his party to steer away from "racist" attacks and stop focusing on blaming undocumented workers for job losses, when "they're doing the work other people are not willing to do."

At the invitation of Oregon Action, Bermudez will speak at an 11 a.m. rally today in Vogel Plaza in Medford. Participants will then march to the fair, which runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Hawthorne Park and features dance, music, arts, crafts and food.

Rich Rohde, executive director of Oregon Action, says Bermudez is "a fearless and able leader, helping communities look to the positive parts of immigration ... and will share with us why Oregon shouldn't go in the divisive direction Arizona did."

Bermudez proposes strong border security, a policy of employment verification, regardless of ethnicity, and a guest worker program, based on the needs of U.S. employers, with workers not bringing families ­— and returning to their country of origin when work is done.

Legal guest workers can become citizens but it should be no more than a six-month process, not up to 20 years, as present, he said.

"This way, employers can plan to have people come to certain areas on certain dates," Bermudez said, adding that, at present, the flow of workers is unreliable and crops suffer.

Laws passed in Arizona in the past year that require legal residency papers be shown on demand "will not help anyone; no one says they've benefitted from this," he said, adding that many employers have told him that American workers who are "flipping burgers" will often "work half a day and take off," while undocumented workers will stick with jobs.

"It's a travesty that we blame undocumented workers for taking away jobs, when they're doing the work other people are not willing to do," he said.

"Being a Republican and very conservative, I'm thoroughly ashamed of the actions of the governor and Republicans in the Legislature who railroaded everyone and caused a lot of hardship. We as a party lost a lot of credibility with the Hispanic people."

Parts of Arizona's new immigration law have since been thrown out, and others are being battled in the courts.

Bermudez said he's a Republican because the party opposes abortion and "keeps government off our backs" — and he faulted the Obama administration for failing its promise to reform immigration in the first year. However, Bermudez said he's trying to change the attitude of Republicans in the immigration debate who "sound, look and act racist against Latinos."

He added, "Most of the loud voices in the Republican Party are white, but America has diversity of culture."

The rally will feature speakers from area churches and Latino organizations, including the Rev. Pam Shepherd of Ashland First Congregational United Church of Christ; Unete; Juan Salles, a Latino business leader, who will talk about the economics of immigration; and Hector Rodriguez, a Rogue Community College student who will talk about immigration from the perspective of the young.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at

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