NORCROSS -- Leaders have high hopes that immigration reform will be tackled by Congress in 2013, but they told residents at a forum Thursday that they need help in driving a path to citizenship into law.
U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, a Democrat, said last November's election was a wake-up call to Republicans in Washington and produced a "mandate for immigration reform."
With lawmakers currently hashing out proposals, Johnson said he expects Congress to take up ways to streamline the immigration process, with the possibility of creating a path to citizenship for people who are currently undocumented. To qualify, people could have to pass background checks, learn English and pay taxes, he said, although no bill has been officially introduced.
"I am quite confident we will be able to reach a just and humane process for people who are already here and those who want to come," Johnson said before a town hall meeting. "This comprehensive immigration reform is necessary. It's time for it."
While few specifics are available, a host of leaders on the issue spoke about ways to help the cause, including writing to congressman regardless of whether you are eligible to vote.
Charles Cook, a Republican who is an immigration attorney, said calls to Washington offices have shifted from about 90 percent against immigration reform to about half in favor of the change.
"We cannot continue to allow the immigration problem to fester in this country," Cook said, pointing out to the attendees that they were counted in the recent census.
While the sentiment is changing nationally, the leaders said the change has not made it to the Georgia General Assembly.
At the end of the forum, Jerry Gonzalez of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials called on people to call Gov. Nathan Deal's office to encourage him to veto Senate Bill 160. Amendments were added to the bill that could mean foreign passports are not acknowledged, causing problems even for children who are legal citizens but whose parents are undocumented registering for school or other programs.