The Lowcountry Immigration Coalition called on U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford to back comprehensive immigration reform Monday during a meeting at his Beaufort office.
Sanford opposed a bill passed by the U.S. Senate in June, which would increase border security and create a 13-year wait for citizenship for the country's 11 million undocumented immigrants.a
However, Sanford said he would continue to consider the issue and committed to attending one of the coalition's town hall meetings to discuss reform with some of Beaufort County's Hispanic community.
"What I'll commit to do is going to one of the meetings. I'd love to learn more," Sanford said. "One of the drivers for me and the deliberations on this issue is the cost issue. So anything you could help me with on that would be much appreciated."
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Coalition members met for about an hour with Sanford, who has said border security must be improved before he would consider large-scale immigration reform.
A date for a follow-up meeting hasn't been set, said coalition co-chairman Eric Esquivel, who added that the timing will likely depend on the congressman's schedule. The group hopes to find a time in December after a Spanish-language Mass in Bluffton or on Hilton Head Island, so as many coalition members as possible can attend.
The group also extended the invitation to Sanford's fiancee, Maria Belen Chapur of Argentina.
Esquivel and coalition co-chairman George Kanuck said they had been trying to secure a meeting with Sanford since July and were happy to finally have the congressman's ear.
"Congressman, we think you're secure in your office," Kanuck told Sanford. "We brought this message to you: Be brave, be courageous, be bold. People would follow someone like yourself."
The issue of immigration reform could be on the back burner for another few months, though, Sanford said, as legislators' focus in Washington is squarely on the debt ceiling and budget debates.
"I don't think it's going to be handled until after January or February, but it's something I'll continue to learn more on," Sanford said.
Follow reporter Zach Murdock at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach.