ENID, Okla. — A U.S. congressman and local leaders talked immigration reform during a roundtable discussion behind closed doors Thursday afternoon at Autry Technology Center in Enid.
According to a media advisory, roundtable participants were to be made available to the press following the discussion. However, invited members of the press were not allowed to access the meeting.
The reform was hosted by New American Economy, an organization supporting immigration reforms aimed at creating jobs, which just launched "Map the Impact."
Leaders attending included Enid Regional Development Alliance Executive Director Brent Kisling, city of Enid Mayor Bill Shewey, community leader Ernie Currier, Congressman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., Enid Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jon Blankenship and several others. All attending leaders left without comment.
Pat McFerron, founding partner with CMA Strategies, helped with the event. CMA Strategies is an Oklahoma City-based lobbying and political consulting firm that specializes in government relations, grassroots advocacy, survey and market research, design and other services, according to its website.
After the meeting disbanded, McFerron was asked why media weren't allowed into the meeting,
"I wish we would've done that better," McFerron said. "We had people — it's such a volatile issue, they wouldn't want to come forward with their personal stories with press there. The issue is so emotional, people are reluctant to have their stories shared in the public realm."
McFerron said people in Lucas' 3rd Congressional District who are here legally on a legal visa were the focus of the discussion. He said several presenters voiced concerns about the uncertainty of immigration reform, renewing visas and issues with the bureaucratic system.
The top five industries employing immigrants in the 3rd Congressional District are manufacturing; agriculture; arts, entertainment, recreation, accommodation and food services; construction’ and general services.
McFerron said some individuals working in the oil and gas field are from Canada. They are in Oklahoma on a legal visa but they fear if they visit family, they will not be let back into the U.S., McFerron said.
"The key goal was to say there are practical things to make reform happen," he said. "There are real people's lives — people who have done things by the book."
According to NAE's "Map the Impact" project, the 3rd Congressional District, including Garfield County and all of the panhandle, has 33,420 immigrant residents totaling 4.4 percent of the ipopulation.
Kisling said in a release that area businesses have voiced their struggles for years about the immigration process. His thoughts were echoed by Blankenship.
"Re-thinking out nation's immigration policy provides an opportunity to secure our borders and develop a fair and efficient system for immigrants seeking work visas or citizenship," Blankenship said. "We should avoid placing undue hardships on business. I appreciate Congressman Lucas' efforts to lead immigration reform in this direction."
The closed-door discussion comes days after President Donald Trump directed his administration to enforce the nation's immigration laws more aggressively.