By JEREMY HAY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Laura González, a teacher and Santa Rosa School Board member, is an ardent advocate for people who entered the United States without permission in order to forge a better life. She terms them “undocumented immigrants.”
Steve Giraud of Petaluma, director of the NorCal Border Patrol Auxiliary, argues with equal fervor that those same people, whom he generally terms “illegal aliens,” are, whatever their motivation, a risk to public health and safety and a drain on the U.S. economy.
On Thursday, González and Giraud, seated next to each other at a forum convened by the county’s Commission on Human Rights, agreed on one thing that needs to happen in order to address the situation of the roughly 12 million people in the country illegally.
“The first place to start would be workplace enforcement,” González said, referring to policies that would prosecute employers that hire illegal labor.
That was one of the few areas in which Giraud and his fellow panelists — most of whom aligned clearly with González — found common ground.
Perhaps 75 people attended the two-hour forum, part of the commission’s Sonoma Counterpoints discussion series. Like the panelists, the audience, judging from applause and murmurs, was squarely on the left side of the debate — which was notably polite on Thursday — over illegal immigration.
Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane set the tone with a full throated endorsement of of immigrants in general, and also a call to recognize the economic contributions of immigrants who have crossed the border illegally.
Undocumented workers alone contribute $158 billion a year to California’s gross state product, Zane said, citing a 2011 study by the left-leaning Immigration Policy Center.
“This is not a group that needs to be maligned; they’re a group that needs to be celebrated,” she said, calling for applause, which was mostly forthcoming.
Giraud, in his closing remarks, countered Zane’s figures. Citing other studies, he said the net loss to the U.S. from illegal immigration is $113 billion.
“What part of illegal don’t you understand,” he said at one point, during an exchange over the correct term for people who commit the federal misdemeanor of crossing the border without authorization.
He, too, got some applause, though less.
Also on the panel were Assistant Sonoma County Sheriff Lorenzo Dueñas, who introduced himself as a son of a bracero, a Mexican farmworker who came to the United States under a government labor program in the 1950s; immigration attorney Christopher Kerosky; Nick Frey, president of the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission; and Marcos Suarez, president of the county’s Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
The forum was taped and will be available for viewing through the commission at a later date.
You can reach Staff Writer Jeremy Hay at 521-5212 or firstname.lastname@example.org.