By Christina M. Woods
The Wichita Eagle
A Hispanic organization is coordinating a community forum with a group that promotes reporting illegal immigrants to federal authorities. The People's Alliance for Latino Advancement and the Kansas Minuteman Civil Defense Corps will explain their missions, discuss problems and identify possible solutions to end illegal immigration.
They also will ask people to sign a petition urging U.S. lawmakers to hold the Mexican government accountable for its contribution to illegal immigration.
U.S. born Hispanics have been silent too long about illegal immigration, said Bob Hernandez, co-chairman of the Latino advancement group. Hernandez, a National Guardsman, said he's against open borders and people who profit from smuggling immigrants.
There is no oversight for Mexico's government, which keeps wages low and caters to the rich, he said. So people flee north and send billions of dollars back home.
"We want the U.S. government to quit pandering to Mexico," Hernandez said. "We want Mexico to take care of ( its) people."
As a result, Hernandez said he agrees with the Minuteman group's mission to speak out against illegal immigration.
"If white people stand up and do it, they're called racists," he said. "If Mexicanos like myself do it, people will say, "You have a point."
The Rev. Rene Tario, of the Wichita Hispanic Ministerial Alliance, said he's adamantly against the two groups combining efforts to put on the forum.
"PALA is not speaking on behalf of the Hispanic/Latino community," he said, adding that the Minuteman group is using Hispanic groups to advance discrimination.
"Regardless of their claims," Tario said, " they (Minutemen) basically want to harass, discriminate and create a hostile environment in the state of Kansas."
Ed Hayes, founder of the Kansas Minuteman chapter, said the group does not promote racism.
"If you're here legally standing in line to become a citizen," Hayes said, " I'm cheering you on."
"But people who come here from countries all over the world, illegally, from the northern and southern borders, we want them to go home."
Between 40,000 and 70,000 unauthorized migrants live in Kansas, according to a 2006 report from the Pew Hispanic Center. The figures include some people who have temporary permission to live in the United States and those whose immigration status is unresolved, which is why the report uses the term "unauthorized migrants."
The Kansas Minuteman group started in September 2006. It has chapters in Wichita, Emporia and Kansas City and its surrounding areas, and chapters under development in Hutchinson and Topeka, Hayes said.
Membership is in the hundreds, Hayes said. He couldn't provide an exact number.
Hernandez said he wanted to learn more about the Minuteman group so he could decide for himself if it promoted racism.
"Quite honestly, I think some of the things they're doing are not so far removed from what PALA thinks," Hernandez said. "We know there's an immigration problem that needs to be resolved."
The Minuteman organization encourages people to identify illegal immigrants' addresses.
The group will report check-cashing facilities and landlords who do business with or rent to illegal immigrants.
Hernandez said reporting illegal immigrants' information to federal authorities has little impact---and that's where the organizations differ.
The Latino alliance wants to focus on what he calls a bigger issue: getting U.S. lawmakers to hold the Mexican government accountable.
"Some will call me a traitor," Hernandez said. "That's O.K. We need to bring attention to the problems."
What: The Ignorance of and about Illegal Immigration
Where: Wichita Central Library, 223 S. Main
When: 7 p.m. Thursday
For more information, call the People's Alliance for Latino Advancement, 316-806-2866, and the Kansas Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, 913-620-0771