A project of the Center for Community Change

Comprehensive Immigration Reform

More Family Voices Needed in Immigration Hearings

The Senate Judiciary Committee has held three hearings so far on the Gang of 8’s proposed immigration reform bill. So far, there has been only one undocumented immigrant who has been invited to testify.

On Monday, Gaby Pacheco told her story of immigrating to the United States from Ecuador at the age of eight.  In her testimony, she talked about her mixed status family and their struggles under our current immigration system.  She also spoke about her work as an immigrant rights activist, including her participation in the Trail of Dreams, a 1,500 mile walk from Miami to Washington, D.C. that she and three other activists embarked on in 2010 to shed light on the plight of undocumented immigrants everywhere.

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Instead of using tactics to delay and derail this important piece of legislation, lawmakers in Washington should hear more stories from people like Pacheco.  Each day that this bill has not become a law, 1,100 people are deported, and 1,100 families are destroyed in the process.

“These people are mothers, fathers, children, and neighbors,” Pacheco said.   “Their dreams are held in the hands of this committee and the rest of Congress. Their dreams now lie in the Senate bipartisan bill, S.744.”

The media should focus on testimony like Gaby’s because she illustrated the problems of our current broken immigration system. Instead, they focus on comments from lawmakers who try to derail the conversation.

Fortunately, the voices of the naysayers have been somewhat quieted by members of their own party. Even Republican Rep. Paul Ryan has said immigration reform is needed now.

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The Immigration Bill: An Historic First Step

The 844-page immigration reform bill released early this morning is a victory on many fronts.  Spokesperson for the Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM) Kica Matos called it a “monumental achievement for our movement.”

To learn more about the specific provisions of the bill from Gang of 8 member Sen. Robert Menendez and to ask questions, join a community call tonight at 8pm ET.  Text LISTEN to 228466, and you will automatically receive a call this evening that will dial you in to this important national conversation. If you want to listen in Spanish, text ESCUCHA to 228466. The Spanish call will be held at 9pm ET.

The bill will provide a pathway to citizenship for millions of the undocumented immigrants living in the United States today and serves as an historic first step toward a more just immigration system.  But the bill is just that—a first step.  FIRM and its partner organizations will continue to work with Congress to make improvements on some of the weaker aspects of the bill.

The cutoff date, for instance, automatically prevents hundreds of thousands of families from becoming eligible for citizenship.  In addition, the 13-year path to citizenship is an unreasonable length of time and should be shortened considerably.

In a statement, Matos explains that FIRM also opposes all so-called “triggers,” saying, “Our families’ well-being should not be conditioned on arbitrary border measures or any political or bureaucratic process which holds their loved ones hostage to regulations over which they have no control.”

The current draft of the bill also fails to include important provisions about family unity, LGBT families, and the diversity visa program.  Immigrant-rights organizations around the country will continue to put pressure on Congress until these measures are made a priority.

Petra Falcon, Executive Director of immigrant-rights group Promise Arizona, said in a statement, “We’re not happy with everything in the bill, but we’re glad Congress is paving a path to citizenship for the undocumented, and we plan to continue to work diligently in the coming weeks to guarantee the final bill unites immigrant families and respects their enormous contributions to our society.”

The Florida Immigrant Coalition, Arizona Comprehensive Immigration Reform Coalition and the Alabama Immigration Advocates are among the groups that have already held press conferences in response to the newly-released bill, in which they reacted to the draft and outlined their next steps.

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Congress must move quickly on immigration

By Kica Matos, Center for Community Change

What does it take to get Congress to listen?

On April 10, more than 100,000 people from 31 states descended on the nation’s Capitol to send a strong message that now is the time for immigration reform.

Thousands of immigrant families knocked on Congress’ door and met with policymakers while in Washington, telling their stories about the urgent need for compassionate, comprehensive legislation.

500,000 people have contacted their Senators over the past few months, urging them to act on a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented men, women and children living in our country.
Labor, civil rights, environmental, LGBT and other progressive leaders and activists joined immigrant rights organizations to demonstrate their solidarity and a commitment to reform.

Public opinion clearly shows that voters want to change our inhumane and broken immigration policies that tear families apart. A recent poll by The Washington Post showed that 70 percent of all voters support creating a path to citizenship.

Families across the country resoundingly support immigration reform, so why is Congress stalling?

Several months ago, the Senate’s “Gang of Eight” held a press conference to announce their immigration principles. They said to expect a bill in early March. No bill was introduced.

The Fair Immigration Reform Movement – a coalition of the largest immigrant rights organizations – set a deadline of March 21 for a bill to be introduced. They missed that deadline too.

Last week, we heard it would be this week. Today, we heard it would be tomorrow.

We do not take seriously promises in the press that a bill is just around the corner.  Promises to our families have been made year after year, election after election, news cycle after news cycle.  All of those promises lie as shattered as every family who is missing a mother, a father, a sister or a brother.

No promises, excuses or spin can counter these two facts:

1. There is no bill.

2. Our families remain under the siege of a broken system and our communities continue to be devastated by overzealous enforcement by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Every day that Congress fails to address our broken immigration system, 1,100 families are torn apart, workers continue to suffer abuse and children are traumatized by the loss of a parent.

As our families continue to suffer, our communities are getting more frustrated and angry at the politicians delaying progress. Politicians must choose people over politics.

At the April 10 rally, we heard from a mother, Elia, who has fought for six years to be reunited with her three children. We heard from a 17-year-old immigrant from Colombia, Kathe, whose mom is working two jobs so that she can go to college. She inspired the crowd to action when she said, “It is unacceptable that the system does not recognize my mom for who she is because we don’t have legal status. I am tired; tired of seeing my mother being oppressed and denied of work opportunities, not because of her skills but because of a nine digit number that apparently defines a person in this country.”

For Elia, for Kathe, for the 11 million families living in this country without legal status,  we cannot wait any longer.

We expect our leaders to lead. The Gang of Eight and the entire Congress must realize that we will not be silent while lives hang in the balance.
The rally on April 10 delivered a resounding message: Now is the time to pass immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship.

Granting the 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country anything less than full citizenship undermines the foundations of American democracy, which are built on the idea that all people – regardless of skin color or country of origin – are created equal.

Americans are ready for a solution to this problem and the policymakers who stand in the way of reform do so at their own peril. Voters want immigration reform, families need immigration reform and we won’t stop fighting until we get immigration reform – done right and done now.

Matos is director of Immigrant Rights and Racial Justice, Center for Community Change.

Originally posted on The Hill

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