Saturday, April 4, 2009

Family Unity Event in Philadelphia

Today I attended the Family Unity event held by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in Philadelphia, PA. The event was attended by Rep. Luis Gutierrez [IL] and Rep. Chaka Fattah [PA], as well as other members from the state’s legislature. As part of the event, I was able to hear testimonies from people who have been and continue to be affected by the unfair and unjust immigration system of this country.

There were three testimonies in total. The first one came from a U.S. citizen who is married to an undocumented immigrant, originally from Mexico. Jill began telling her and her husband’s story by informing us how they met; she was a teacher of the English class her now husband attended. They now have 2 children together, but they live in fear everyday as a result of her husband’s immigration status. Jill fears the day she might have to choose between staying in this country without her husband and being forced out of her own country in order to keep her family together.

The second testimony came from a woman from Trinidad who is a legal resident in this country. She has been living in the United States for 4 years, and has four children. Unfortunately, two of these children are still in Trinidad waiting for their visa to come through to finally reunite with their mother. As I was listening to her story, I could feel the pain she was going through; to be separated for four years from two of your kids must be an agonizing experience. The good news came after her testimony, when one of the hosts presented her with the $600 she needed to continue her legal battle to finally reunite her family.

The third testimony really touched me, because it came from a fellow DREAMer who we call “Anita.” Unfortunately, Anita was too afraid to attend the event, but a girl from the church was able to read us her story. Anita is originally from Argentina. She came to the United States with her parents at the young age of 10. She is now 18 and wants to be the first person in her family to attend college. Unfortunately, she is faced with the struggle that many of us are very much aware of, we lack the papers necessary to make this possible. Anita is an exemplary student, having graduated high school with 3 AP classes under her belt, one of them being AP English Literature. The fact that she faces this huge obstacle which prevents her from attending a higher learning institution is not only detrimental to her, but also to the United States. Anita is just asking for the opportunity to prove herself to his country; why are we preventing her from doing so?

After the three very powerful testimonials, Rep. Gutierrez came forward and talked about the importance of passing Comprehensive Immigration Reform this year to give humanitarian relief to undocumented families in this country. He called for consistency in the Obama administration between what now President Obama campaigned for and what his policies are now. He called for an end to raids and deportations that cause children, wives, and husbands to be separated from their loved ones. He also mentioned how unfair the system is, when we have a solider fighting in Iraq, but the federal government at home is trying to deport his wife; how unfair it is that the government focuses on deporting hard-working individuals instead of the real criminals living in this country. All in all, he called for the community to stand up and let their voices be heard in favor of immigration reform so that the Obama administration and Congress respond to this fundamental civil rights issue.

Rep. Chaka Fattah of the 2nd District of Pennsylvania also spoke about the need for comprehensive immigration reform, to be on the “right side of history.” While he is not my representative, it was great to hear him speak about the obligation we have to provide law-abiding people with a pathway to citizenship.

And then it all ended with four mariachis coming to the stage to sing us a couple of great songs. And while there was no talk of the DREAM Act in particular, it was still inspiring to see people from the community come together and support Comprehensive Immigration Reform.

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