This morning there was a forum for immigration reform and the Queen of Peace Church in Aurora. The common theme was different angles on how the current system for immigration is broken and that we need comprehensive immigration reform now.
Father Lally opened with comments about how our current laws are outdated and do not match the reality of people's lives and that our failure to act actually undermines the security of our borders. He noted that the Conference of Bishops have called for reform that includes:
- a path to citizenship
- protection for all workers in the U.S.
- a family-based immigration system and reduction in backlogs
- restoring some due process rights, and
- acknowledging need for economic development in other countries.
Jenny then spoke about how she and her family came to the U.S. for a better life, lived in Colorado for 13 years, paid taxes, worked and never had any trouble with the authorities. Her two young children are U.S. citizens. When her husband was diagnosed with cancer and became too ill to work, she picked up three jobs, and even then was falling further behind on her mortgage. When her car failed emissions she didn't have the money for the necessary repairs and couldn't afford to renew her driver's license. She was pulled over by police asked if she was "legal" or "illegal," taken to jail and put on an immigration hold while her sick husband stayed home and cared for the kids. She was transferred to an immigration facility where further humiliated, left in cold conditions, got sick and wasn't given care for over a week. While she was eventually released, she incurred a $2,700 impound fee, lost her jobs, and owes money to the attorney that helped with her release. Jenny urged that families should not be separated and the need to address immigration reform.
Jesus is a 12 year-old community organizer who goes to Cesar Chavez Academy. He is a U.S. citizen who is the son of parents who originally immigrated from Mexico. He asked us what kind of community do we want to live in? Do we want a community of divided families? A community where education opportunity is cut short? A community where we fear police? Or do we want a community with a strong family foundation, where we can achieve our educational and career goals and dreams and partner with the police and law enforcement for a safe, thriving community?
U.S. Senator Michael Bennet attended and said that it is unacceptable to have 12 million people living in the shadows of our laws and that we need comprehensive immigration reform. He highlighted the appointment of Justice Sonya Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court as something we can celebrate that if we get a good education and work hard, that we can achieve anything. He also mentioned that his mother immigrated from Poland escaping World War II at the age of 12 to the U.S. and did not speak English at the time. She learned, found housing for the family and figured out when, where and how to get herself enrolled in school. He said he was a proud co-sponsor of the Dream Act, Agriculture Act and a Small Business Act. He opposed the building of the wall and the mandate to use e-verify. In calling for comprehensive human reform he concluded that "we are all God's children."
Rev. Larry Brown next spoke and reminded us that in the first 100 years of this country's history, immigration was virtually unregulated. People arrived, got off the ship, and tried to realize their American Dream. While he talked about the great promise and ideals of this country, he reminded us that the author of the Declaration (Thomas Jefferson) was a slave owner and that we have always been a land contradictions. Not long after, we saw some of the first waves of immigrants express backlash against the new immigrants. By 1798 the U.S. had passed the "Alien & Sedition Act" severely restricting free speech rights and other political rights of French and Irish immigrants. By 1882 some prior generations of immigrants began to feel threatened by Chinese immigrants that were competing for jobs and passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which wasn't repealed until 1943. He called for respect for the law, but also the need for dignity for all human beings. He called for:
- a pathway to citizenship,
- rights for all workers,
- no wall, described as a Medieval practice.
He said that our national security requires gaining the goodwill of our neighbors and passing laws that support the humanity of all, and challenged us to ask ourselves,
- who is my brother?
- who is my neighbor?
Rev. Mario Mencos then joined us to point out lessons and analogies in Israel and Egypt. He told the group that God has bigger plans.
Alicia talked about working for a company with extreme deadline pressures that failed to pay overtime, failed to provide paychecks in a timely or regular manner, had unsafe working conditions, where workers were yelled at and even had things thrown at them. She held up her scar from where they threw a pair of scissors at her. The employer would threaten workers and call them "wetback" and talk about deporting them. Alicia, who is a U.S. citizen, fought back and sued the employer. After no-showing several times in Court, they filed for bankruptcy to avoid paying the salaries they owed to their workers and simply reorganized under a new name.
Samuel spoke on behalf of workers and that while some people blame workers for low wages, the real reason for low wages is that most our state and federal laws are written to favor large corporations, rather than workers or consumers.
The event was moderated by Alma Mendoza who concluded with a call for all people doing something to ensure that Congress takes up comprehensive national immigration reform as soon as possible.