Cries for immigration reform echo throughout country
By Vivian Luu
Northwest Asian Weekly
About 250,000 demonstrators rallied at the National Mall in Washington, D.C., last weekend. They were all calling for immigration reform.
“The U.S. immigration system is broken,” said President Barack Obama in a video message. Families are being torn apart and employers are using the system to exploit workers. The president promised a comprehensive bill to fix the system, in addition tomaking immigration reform a top priority.
Marching from Washington state were 50 immigrants and supporters from OneAmerica, a nonprofit that seeks to empower immigrant communities to further democracy.
“People are angry across the country,” said Pramila Jayapal, OneAmerica’s executive director and founder. “They’re tired of being disappointed. … We don’t have the right to give up on immigration reform.”
Washington legislators and Seattle city officials are backing the move toward fixing the “broken immigration system.” Senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray each addressed the president supporting reform. They cited benefits to the economy and how repairs would reunite families.
Seattle Deputy Mayor Darryl Smith said issues with immigration are very real, both nationally and locally. “Businesses can’t hire the employees they need,” he said. “Students can’t connect to the work force after they graduate from our schools.”
“It’s time to move out of the shadows and into the light of human rights,” said city councilmember Richard Conlin.
While Mexican immigrants are currently deported most from the United States, Asian immigrants are not without troubles. Many Asian families have been torn apart by visa backlogs and battles lost during the naturalization process. Little mercy is given to those who overstay their visas.
Being denied citizenship is one thing, but being exploited takes flaws in the immigration system to another level. Richard Gurtiza, president of Region 37 of the Inlandboatmen’s union, said, “Sometimes, an employee would be nearing time to receive benefits. Instead of getting promoted or receiving a bonus, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) goes after him. When a bonus is coming up, employers would call the ICE.”
Little consideration is given to immigrants — many of whom are merely searching for work and a better life, said Bettie Luke, director of the Organization of Chinese Americans of Greater Seattle. “The Chinese compound would come together and pick the person who was the strongest, smartest, and most resilient to come to the United States, make money, and send it home,” she said. “Without it, they wouldn’t be able to survive.”
The Chinese are not alone. Filipino immigrants settled in the United States hundreds of years ago and were victim to discrimination and antimiscegenation laws. They now face difficulty becoming U.S. citizens, said Alma Kern, president of the Filipino Community of Seattle.
The Filipino population in Washington outnumbers that of any other Asian group in the state. About 1,200 Filipinos immigrate to Washington each year.
One positive that has come out of the debate is that more Asian American community members, with or without their citizenship, are rallying for immigration reform.
“In previous marches, there were very few Asian Americans out,” said Bob Santos, a civil rights activist. “With more leadership and talk about reform, there’s been a higher turnout. That makes me very proud, and there’s a direct impact to our community.”
More than 1,000 Asian Americans have committed to an immigration demonstration in April, said Diane Narasaki, executive director of the Asian Counseling and Referral Service.
“We see movement toward a solution,” she said. “We can’t wait any longer. It’s time.”
The Washington Immigration Reform Coalition (WIRC) for America is holding a rally in support of comprehensive immigration reform on Saturday, April 10 at noon as part of the National Day of Action. The rally will be at Occidental Park in Seattle and is expected to draw thousands of people from all over Washington state. ♦
Vivian Luu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.