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Congressman, Latino voters seek common ground

Rep. Rob Woodall fielded several questions during an Aug. 6 town hall at the Aurora Theatre. (staff photo: Kristi Reed)

Rep. Rob Woodall fielded several questions during an Aug. 6 town hall at the Aurora Theatre. (staff photo: Kristi Reed)

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Jerry Gonzales, Executive Director of GALEO, welcomed attendees to Wednesday night’s town hall event. (staff photo: Kristi Reed)

Sometimes you just have to agree to disagree.

If there was a consensus reached at Wednesday night’s town hall meeting between Rep. Rob Woodall and representatives of the Latino community, that was it.

The event, organized by the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, was an opportunity for Latino voters to meet with the congressman to discuss issues of concern, particularly immigration reform and the Voting Rights Act.

Jerry Gonzales, Executive Director of GALEO, said Georgia’s more than 200,000 Latino voters are very concerned about immigration and are interested in reaching consensus.

“We’ve always been in support of a workable solution that moves our country forward,” Gonzales said.

That solution, he said, must involve keeping families together, an efficient and effective immigration policy, a smart and secure border and adequate enforcement measures. GALEO, he added, supported the Senate bill on immigration despite the fact the legislation represented a “significant” compromise. The organization does not, however, support the House bill Woodall and his colleagues recently passed.

“We do support that the president take full use of executive authority and push the limits of what he can do to end some of the suffering that’s happening in our communities,” Gonzales said.

If learning that the group hosting the town hall meeting did not support the immigration legislation Woodall has been actively promoting wasn’t bad enough, the congressman was reminded of some more discouraging news before taking the stage.

Last week, the 2014 National Immigration Score Card — a measure of elected representatives’ votes on immigration-related legislation — was released.

“Unfortunately your score is at zero percent so far,” Gonzales said. “We’re here tonight because we want to work with you to help improve that.”

Woodall went to work immediately, engaging the audience and explaining his stance on several issues, including immigration reform.

“The only immigration policy I’m interested in is the one that builds the absolute strongest America possible,” Woodall said.

While acknowledging there will be areas of disagreement, Woodall said he believes a common goal exists.

“What folks agree on is that the future of this country is the only thing that matters,” he said.

Woodall added that his office has worked with hundreds of constituents regarding immigration-related casework and dealt with more than 37,000 immigration-related letters, phone calls, faxes and emails.

“We don’t care what your politics are, we don’t care what your status is,” Woodall said. “We care whether or not the law is on your side because the law exists to protect us all equally.”

The governing law, he said, must be the first issue addressed in order to reform immigration.

“I want a law that we can agree we’re going to enforce, not one that is just going to be for show,” he said.

Woodall believes Republicans will take control of the Senate in the fall and will be able to make progress on immigration-related issues.

“We’ll begin to be able to put little things on the president’s desk,” he said. “I think that’s going to rebuild some relationships.”

In closing, Woodall thanked GALEO for being an “intellectual friend” and called on those in attendance to work with him to move forward.

“Anything you can do to help me tone down the rhetoric — and I say the same thing when I am at a Tea Party meeting — the rhetoric does nothing but divide us,” he said. “I promise you, we’re not going to get to a solution that you want, we’re not going to get to a solution I want, we’re not going to get to a solution the Tea Party wants if we can’t have a conversation — an honest, fair, brokered conversation — about this issue.”

After Woodall left for another engagement, GALEO director Gonzales reminded attendees of their responsibility to educate other voters about the issues. According to Gonzales, Gwinnett County had 32,000 out of the 184,000 Latino voters in Georgia in 2012.

“Gwinnett County accounts for 17 percent of the state’s Latino electorate so Gwinnett County is significantly important in statewide races as well as locally,” Gonzales said. The highest concentration of Latino voters, he said, reside within Woodall’s 7th Congressional District.

With the senate and gubernatorial races expected to be tight, Gonzales said it is critical to get Latino voters to the polls.

“Every vote is precious,” Gonzales added. “The Latino vote can make a difference.”