CHICAGO – “The sky didn’t fall when I won my legal status during the last immigration reform of 1986 and the sky will not fall when we pass this immigration reform,” said Victor Herrera. “In fact, it will be a sunny day.”
Herrera was speaking at a rally July 1 in front of the Chicago office of Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Ill., called by Organizing for Action (OFA). A similar action was held at the Springfield office of Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Ill., on July 2.
With passage of legislation in the U.S. Senate, supporters of immigration reform have turned their attention to the House of Representatives where the fight promises to be much harder.
“This is way overdue. The Senate gave hope, but I’m more pessimistic about the House,” Chicago Alderman Proco Joseph Moreno, III, told the People’s World. “We’re talking about a right-wing fringe controlling the Republican Party. Pressure needs to build in those districts where representatives are holding it back.”
While immigration reform supporters are not happy with aspects of the Senate legislation, including the militarization of the border, the long wait for citizenship and onerous work requirements, it still offers the nation’s 11.5 million undocumented residents legal status, a path to citizenship and a chance to keep families together.
According to OFA the reform legislation will bolster the economy, reduce the federal deficit by $1 trillion over 20 years, reduce state deficits and create 3.2 million new jobs.
Lipinski, a conservative Democrat who recently voted in favor of the restrictive abortion bill authored by Republicans in the House of Representatives, has been vague on his position toward immigration reform. This troubles many of his constituents because his district is made up of a substantial population of Latino, Polish and other immigrant residents.
Marnee Ostoa, a self described “Dreamer,” offered testimony of what reform would mean for her and others like her.
“I came to the U.S. from Mexico at the age of 5 years old,” she said. “All my life I wanted to be something big. One day I heard the Disney Channel was having an audition. My father told me even if I were accepted I wouldn’t be able to do it because I was undocumented.”
Ostoa went anyway and won an audition in Los Angeles. But then they asked for her legal documents and her dream was crushed. Ostoa lost hope, knowing that no matter what she accomplished it was meaningless because she didn’t have legal status. She dropped out of school despite getting honors.
Last year Ostoa heard about President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and signed up. She was accepted and got her GED.
“From having no hope I now have hope and will be going to college in the fall and have a job,” said Ostoa. “I believe just like it changed my life it will change other’s lives. I really hope this passes.”
Today Victor Herrera works for the Chicago Public Schools at Roosevelt High School and every day sees the barriers erected against undocumented youth. He’s confident immigration reform will bring people out of the shadows and allow millions to become part of the economic and social fabric of the nation.
Herrera also described a recent documentary he saw about sexual abuse and rape that women immigrant workers have been enduring in fields and factories.
“If they come forward to complain they risk being deported. They are putting up with this abuse because they are fearful,” said Herrera. “Comprehensive immigration reform will give these women a voice to stop the abuse.”
“It is important that Rep. Lipinski, John Boehner and the folks that represent Illinois in Congress support comprehensive reform,” Herrera said.
Alderman Moreno said his grandfather, Proco Joseph Moreno, came here illegally from Mexico and at age 19 fought in World War II. He parachuted into during D-Day and earned two Purple Hearts.
“Even after getting an honorable discharge, his papers were still stamped ‘non-citizen’. He was good enough to fight for the country but not to be a citizen. It’s not right,” said Moreno.
“I have many constituents that want to come out of the shadows and send their kids to college. The longer this goes on the more apart from everything they will be.”
Photo: Immigration reform supporters tell Rep. Dan Lipinski to support reform legislation, July 2, Chicago Ridge, Ill. Photo by Robin Schmidt.