More than 250 advocates and immigrant workers, including approximately 60 members from the Latino Union of Chicago, met in Washington D.C. last week to make their voices heard by legislators and push for a moratorium on deportations while a deal on immigration reform is being hashed out.
On February 13, immigrant groups from across then nation, organized by the United Workers Congress, attended the first Senate hearing on immigration, met with U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D, IL-4), rallied on the Hill and met with legislators from their respective states.
Members of the Latino Union of Chicago met with U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), a member of the bipartisan group of senators dubbed the Gang of Eight, to ask about features of their recently released proposal “Bipartisan Framework for Comprehensive Immigration Reform.”
The Gang of Eight’s plan calls for creating an employment verification system that will prevent the hiring of undocumented workers, tighten security along the U.S.-Mexican border, expand visas for high-tech workers, and provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
Durbin heard testimony from at least five families who have had a member deported within the last year and, according to one attendee, promised he would review the cases to see if there is anything he could do to help.
“Hopefully the president or Senator Durbin will help us,” said Josesina Resendaz, 33, who brought her children with her to D.C. with the Latino Union of Chicago last week to advocate for sensible and expedient immigrant reform. Resendaz’s husband, Carlos Resendaz, 33, was deported to Mexico last year.
“It’s been a year already and I’m desperate; I don’t know what to do,” she said. While Resendaz worked as a medical assistant in Naperville, Carlos would take care of their three children who are all younger than 11. For work in the summer, he would sell ice cream and corn on the cob on the street and in the winter he would do snow removal.
Resendaz said, while her husband is stuck in Mexico City, she is struggling to pay her mortgage and doesn’t have the money to visit. “My husband has never been separated from my kids for this long, this has been really hard for them,” she said. “I have to keep fighting.”
The Latino Union of Chicago hosted a 200-person march on January 21, the same day as the presidential inauguration, in the wake of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids at Chicago Pallet Service Inc. in Elk Gove in November and raids in Albany Park in December. Collectively 41 undocumented immigrants were detained.
“We need to pressure for a moratorium on deportations during immigration reform,” said Eric Rodriguez, executive director for the Latino Union of Chicago. “There absolutely shouldn’t be any conversation or negotiation on immigration reform without first putting a moratorium on this human crisis of deportations.”
Rodriguez said the Latino Union is planning another protest on March 10, which will have undocumented citizens come out and say, “We are not afraid, We are undocumented, We are humans and We are workers.”
“We need to make sure that those who are negotiating and proposing immigration reform legislation are completely connected to the realities of the people on the ground,” he said.
Three undocumented immigrants attended the 2013 State of the Union address last week as guests of Democratic legislators. One immigrant, Alan Aleman, a DREAM student from Las Vegas sat in First Lady Michelle Obama's viewing box.
U.S. Rep. Gutierrez invited Gabino Sanchez, a South Carolina husband and father of two, to be his guest at the State of the Union address.
"The 11 million people who will be taking the risk of stepping forward out of the shadows are central to the effort to fix our broken immigration system," Gutierrez said in a statement. "Immigration reform is not just about the process of passing a law. It is about the millions who have suffered terribly because our system is decades out of date and they have no avenue for relief unless our laws are changed. Their bravery to speak up is why I want to hear from them and why I want my colleagues to hear from them."
The Obama administration deported more than 400,000 undocumented immigrants in fiscal year 2012, a record high in American history. According to ICE, 55 percent of the deportees were convicted criminals.
As of mid-December, more than 355,000 people have applied for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which grants a two-year deferral of deportation for young unauthorized immigrants. According to one report, approximately 100,000 have been approved.
“Research shows that with legal status, illegal immigrants would create a much larger fiscal cost for taxpayers than they currently do if they stay in illegal status. But the illegal immigrants themselves would benefit because they’d be able to access more social services,” said Steven Camarota, director of research for the Center for Immigration Studies.
“It can be difficult to decide,” he said. “It’s between what’s best for American workers and American taxpayers or what’s best for illegal immigrants, and once you make that decision then you can decide on which policy prescriptions to move forward with.”
The United Workers Congress released a suggested list of principles for immigration reform, which include, but are not limited to, minimization of legalization obstacles, such as work requirements, fines and high fees; an end to collaboration between police, ICE, and labor enforcement; protections for workers who expose civil rights violations related to immigration enforcement; and social safety net protections for immigrants during the legalization process.
“There’s a human crisis on the ground throughout the country because of the terrorizing that homeland security is doing,” said Rodriguez.
“We see the complete disconnect between many of the politicians negotiating some type of immigration bill, and the terrorizing that’s happening in immigrant communities throughout the country.”
Image: AP Photo/The Deseret News, Scott G. Winterton