ALBANY - Religious, labor and community leaders gathered Thursday to rally support for a bi-partisan immigration reform bill they believe is humane, protects the U.S. borders and continues the American tradition of being a land of opportunity for all.
The diverse group of immigration reform advocates gathered in front of the Westminster Presbyterian Church on State Street to back the Strive Act, a bi-partisan bill introduced Thursday by Congressmen Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.
"It's light years ahead of the bill that was introduced last year that went nowhere," said Dick Dana, president of ARISE, a faith-based community organizing group. "We are encouraged that this bill can solve some of the problems with immigration that has been going on for many years."
Supporters of the bill labeled it "tough and fair" when it comes to protecting U.S. security, strengthening the economy and treating illegal immigrants fairly and humanely.
"This bill will address the rights of immigrants, propose a process for applying for citizenship but it will also takes steps toward guarding our borders and address issues businesses have in attempting to figure out the status of a worker," said Dana.
Champions of the bill point out that opinion polls suggest a majority of Americans are growing impatient waiting for federal action to solve the immigration situation, which has been in a state of gridlock in Washington, D.C., for years.
A recent Gallup/USA Today poll showed nearly 60 percent of Americans prefer a comprehensive solution with an earned path to citizenship for undocumented workers.
"In the midst of an economic crisis, the people are tired of partisan posturing and finger pointing," said Lucia Gutierrez, co-chair of ARISE's Civil Rights of Immigration Task Force. "We want our leaders to lead and solve tough problems on a bipartisan basis."
Gutierrez, and others, believe the Strive act could serve as an important first step toward overhauling an immigration system that has failed both immigrants and America.
There are currently an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants working and living in the U.S., which is estimated to be approximately 9 million more than only 16 years ago.
"This is certainly a problem that needs to be fixed, but you also have to wonder how this came to be in the first place," said Gene Rodriguez, a member of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement. "We can't just tell these people now you're out, when we didn't initially enforce the laws."
For those living in the Capital District who think immigration is only a problem in states like Texas or New Mexico, local advocates for reform pointed out how in recent years a growing number of illegal immigrants have made this region their home.
"If you look around, there's a tremendous amount of immigrants here doing menial jobs who have had this fear of being picked up, deported and forced to leave their wives and children behind for years," said Dana.
Those who attended the session also felt it was time to put an end to demonizing and politizing and exploiting immigrants by radio talk show hosts, politicians looking for votes and businesses looking to capitalize on cheap labor.
"It seems these people all look for the one bad story to affirm their beliefs, but the reality is most of these immigrants are hardworking, family people who are being exploited," said Rodriguez.
Still, Rodriguez says he's confident this issue will move forward in a positive way.
"I'm very optimistic, because the present Congress is looking for logical ways to address this issue," said Rodriguez. "So, yes ... I strongly believe the future looks good."
One area of the bill that might stir some debate is the Touchback provision, which requires legalization applicants to leave the U.S., trade documents and then make a clean re-entry into this country.