The blooming hopes for immigrant reform are haunted by the fear Congress won’t repair the restrictions pulling immigrant families apart.
Those of us marching this May 1st felt the yearnings of an Immigration Spring.
“I firmly believe the most important issue facing this valley, this region, this nation is immigration reform,” announced speaker Steve Lacy, mayor of East Wenatchee and an attorney in personal employment claims.
Wenatchee Valley’s Community for the Advancement of Family Education (CAFÉ) and Centro Latino organized the march. They are affiliated with OneAmerica, the largest immigration advocacy group in Washington State. Their websites and speeches are full of energy and hope after the national election last October.
Jorge Chacón, chair of Café and a local psychologist, spoke of their success by transforming the historical theme, ‘Si se puede, Yes we can,’ into a new chant. “Si se pudo, yes we did it!”
Reform is moving rapidly and Wenatchee Valley has powerful voices working on it. Stemilt president West Mathison introduced Jon Wyss, government affairs director of Gebbers Farms in Manson and Brewster as one of the people working on this issue in Washington, D.C.
“He’s talking directly with the people who are writing the actual law,” said Jean Speidel, and employee of Speidel law firm which includes immigration law in its practice areas.
During the march Wyss told me the U.S. Senate should start marking up the language of the bill on May 6.
Hopes are rising because immigration reform is bi-partisan. After speakers including Wenatchee Mayor Frank Kuntz, Karen Keleman, chair of the Douglas County Democrats told the crowd, “I hope you noticed this is a bi-partisan issue. Some of the speakers you’ve heard have been Republicans.”
Despite the enthusiasm, OneAmeria and local leaders fear reform won’t eliminate the procedures that are forcing productive workers to leave their families, jeopardizing education for documented residents and restricting the ability of employers to find workers.
Those fears rose above the crowd of adults and children walking together and carrying signs saying keep families together.
Susan Griggs, an Hispanic church pastor from my Methodist church met a pastor from Detroit whose family experienced problems after they entered the U.S. on her husband’s work visa. When she and husband separated, she kept their two children who were graduating from high school with scholarships to attend college.
Her husband returned to Mexico and she lost her documented status. The church helped her get a work visa, but her children could not get theirs at the same time. The teenagers (18 and 19) returned to Mexico to live without either parent in a foreign land and take preparatory Spanish classes before they could enroll in the university.
Selling Mexican food for additional income, the mother financed their education, visited them periodically and managed her own household. Finally support from an attorney and congressional members permitted her children to get visas.
Phil Safar, a Wenatchee immigration attorney, knows the impacts on families, especially unreasonable barriers in the law that bar immigrants from re-entering the US.
“I see it every day in my practice, sometimes waiting as long as ten years,” he said during the march. “I’ve just posted a note about the bars on Sen. Rubio’s website.”
Sen. Marco Rubio, (R-Fla) is one of eight senators who sponsored the bi-partisan senate immigration bill.
State legislators are working on House Bill 1817, the Dream Act that would extend state-based financial aid for graduating students enrolling in college. The bill passed the House 77-20 with the support of Representatives Condotta and Hawkins, but didn’t fet considered by the Senate.
“Since the Senate failed to pass it in regular session, bills have to be re-passed by the House and sent to the Senate again,” Wyss told me.
This surge for immigration reform should strengthen our local employers, grow our local economy and unite families consistent with our economic and moral values.
“Our immigration system is broken,” said Chacón, “and I believe it has spiritually damaged our nation.”
We need to restore our immigration system to be worthy of Liberty’s invitation, ”Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free.