SPRINGFIELD — A proposed initiative that would require Springfield businesses to check the immigration status of their employees will face a stiff fight from several groups, opponents said after meeting to plan strategy.
A large crowd gathered Monday to discuss ways to defeat an effort by the Ozarks Minutemen to put the proposal before Springfield voters. The Springfield News-Leader reports that the crowd included Hispanic immigrants, non-Hispanics, members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, church pastors and business leaders.
The meeting was organized by Grupo Latinoamericano, which believes the initiative is aimed at Hispanics in general and Mexicans in particular, said the group's president, Yolanda Lorge.
"This has been personalized," Lorge said. "Illegal alien equals Mexican."
Minutemen spokesman Jerry Wilson said the petition isn't aimed a particular group.
"Our basic position is you are either eligible to work in the United States, or you are not," Wilson said. He has said his group is not affiliated with the Minuteman Project, a separate private group that has patrolled the U.S.-Mexico border on the lookout for illegal immigrants.
The effort to get the proposal on the ballot is disturbing, said Mark Struckhoff, executive director of the Council of Churches of the Ozarks.
"It's a message that doesn't belong in the community," Struckhoff said. "It's a message of trying to dominate other people and dominate other people who are just making it."
Last week, the city told the Minutemen that the group was about 300 signatures short of the 2,101 signatures needed to put an initiative petition on the ballot. The organization has until next Monday to get enough signatures.
The Mayor's Commission on Human Rights will meet next week and discuss the proposal, said chairman George Davis, who added that he's concerned the petition could be flawed because it doesn't protect citizens or legal immigrants from harassment.
Another opponent, Vanessa Crawford, executive director of Missouri Immigrants and Refugee Advocates, said the proposal would be an economic burden for Springfield businesses. The E-Verify system can be time-consuming for small businesses, and the economic penalty would be damaging, she said.
Anthony Garcia, pastor of Iglesia del Pueblo, said members of his church are worried about the proposal.
Hispanics just want to be members of the community, work and have a good life with their families, he said.
"That is one of my feelings, that this word is not being carried to the entire community," he said.