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Immigration reform picks up momentum

By Arooj Ashraf, La Prensa Correspondent

One hundred-fifty people from Cleveland, Ashtabula, and Lake counties filled Nueva Luz Church in Cleveland on Jan. 14, 2010, to affirm support for immigration reform, while three protestors stood outside holding signs against amnesty.
 

Hand in hand, leaders and activists from the Latino, African-American, Asian-American, Jewish, and Muslim communities prayed for immediate and just changes in immigration laws, and for the victims of Haiti’s earthquake of Jan. 12, 2010.

On Jan. 16, more than1,600 people marched for reform in front of Hartwell Country Club in Cincinnati.  In cities across the United States, Reform Immigration for America has mobilized similar rallies to remind the Barack Obama administration to fulfill its campaign promise, and make immigration a priority this year.

“If we don’t get something by May we’ll be losing a lot of people,” Veronica Isabel Dahlberg, director of Hispanic Organizations of Lake and Ashtabula (HOLA) and stressed the window for change is brief this election year. She said raids and traffic stops and increased deportations have spread fear throughout the communities.  

Rev. Stanley Miller, director of Cleveland NAACP, said increase in racial profiling is eerily reminiscent of slave catchers for the 1860s, “This is an issue whose time has come and it has to be addressed right now.”

The law needs to be updated to reflect current economic needs and U.S. democracy, said attorney David Leopold, president of the American Immigration Lawyer’s Association (AILA). “If someone comes at you and says ‘they broke the law’ – well, it’s a bad law,” he said, and evoked memories of Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, “…they broke the law.”

He said lack of visas for high skilled laborers like registered nurses has an immediate impact on the health of U.S. citizens, “operations are being canceled because there aren’t enough nurses.”

The debate rarely includes job-creating immigrants, said Richard Herman, co-author of Immigrant Inc., Why immigrants are driving the U.S. Economy. He said corporations—like Pfizer, U.S. Steel—were founded by immigrants.


And cities that embrace diversity are more prosperous nationwide because they benefit from the hard work, entrepreneurship, and innovative ideas immigrants bring to the country. Herman said Greater Cleveland’s current foreign-born population is only 4 percent, which is bad news for an area struggling to innovate.
 

Dahleberg introduced 20 undocumented students from Ashtabula and Lake Counties, “This is our future,” she reminded the audience. Each student has hopes, ambitions, and potential but their future is uncertain.

Juana has lived in Ashtabula since she was 5-years old and dreams of becoming a forensic psychologist. Tears sparkled in her eyes as she described the stress of ‘living a double life’ –lying to her friends and hiding from her teachers and the fear of being deported like her siblings. Most apparent emotion in her voice though is frustration; “I know I can do so much, just give us a chance,” she said and hoped U.S. congressional leaders will give reform a fair opportunity and listen.

Max Blachman, an aide to U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown said while it is unlikely the U.S. Senate will take up the issue before the November 2010 election, Sen. Brown favors legislation that includes language for ‘earned citizenship’ and is open to hearing all opinions and concerns.

Alejandro Rivera is skeptical of any reform initiatives that begin around election and said the hot-button issue is used by politicians to exploit the emotions of Latino voters, only to be delayed or forgotten.  Speakers urged solidarity in raising voices for reform, and the importance of being organized. “It is amazing to me how organized those who hate are, and how a small minority can create such havoc, so let’s make a lot of noise,” said Pastor Max Rodas.

 

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