Supporters of a tough new illegal immigration bill got a shot of support from an unlikely source today -- Lt. Col. Ray Mejia, a high-ranking Hispanic in the Army Reserve -- who announced his support of Senate Bill 335.
"The rule of law is what this country is based upon, and I believe in that," said the 54-year-old Mejia, who works with the 310th Expeditionary Support Command as chief of the Distribution Management Center division.
Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel, author of the immigration bill, introduced Mejia to reporters at an 11 a.m. press conference -- hoping his endorsement will fight off charges that his bill is racially motivated, as many other Hispanic leaders have suggested.
Mejia was born in Mexico, the son of a migrant worker who came to Indiana during World War II.
Speaking with just the barest hint of a Spanish accent, he said he became a U.S. citizen in 1982. The graduate of Cardinal Ritter High School in Indianapolis has served 32 years in the military. He now works at Eli Lilly as a computer systems quality engineer, as well in the Reserve.
Mejia said Delph did not seek him out for his endorsement.
"I actually came to him," he said. "I said, 'I believe in what you are doing.'"
SB 335 -- which would punish employers for hiring illegal immigrants -- passed the Senate last week and is awaiting a hearing in the House.
House sponsor Rep. Vern Tincher, D-Terre Haute, said he would meet with House Speaker B. Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend, today to push for a hearing.
Last week, Bauer said he was not opposed to hearing the bill, but wanted to "take a look at it" before committing. Without a hearing, the bill faces an uncertain future.