Locals rally for immigration reform

La Colectiva´s delegation meets with Representative Tim Johnson´s staff on Saturday during an immigration reform rally outside Johnson´s office. The delegation did not meet with Johnson, but drew attention by leaving more than a thousan Adam Babcock

La Colectiva´s delegation meets with Representative Tim Johnson´s staff on Saturday during an immigration reform rally outside Johnson´s office. The delegation did not meet with Johnson, but drew attention by leaving more than a thousan Adam Babcock

By Darhiana Mateo

A crowd of almost 100 University students and local residents rallied together in front of U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson’s Champaign (R-IL) office Friday afternoon determined to be heard.

With their voices united in protest and hope, the group shouted slogans such as “immigration built this nation” and “the people united will never be divided” as they waved brightly colored poster signs echoing similar messages.

The rally, organized by La Colectiva, a University activist group that seeks to raise political awareness on immigration issues, was an attempt to gain Johnson’s attention and support for a pending federal bill titled, The Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act, recently introduced in May 2005.

The bipartisan bill is sponsored by Sens. McCain (R-AZ) and Kennedy (D-MA) and is commonly referred to as a comprehensive immigration reform bill or CIR.

Yesenia Sanchez, junior in LAS, said the bill, which would allow undocumented immigrants to be able to work legally, adjust their legal status and place them on a track towards legal residence, is a realistic solution to the current “broken” immigration system.

“What we ask of him (Johnson) as an elected official is to take a stand on issues that are affecting the community that he represents,” Sanchez said. “We want him to take a stand-understand the necessity and urgency of immigration reform and immigrant issues.”

If passed, the bill would create a six-year track for qualified undocumented immigrants to get green cards. In order to qualify, immigrants must have been employed or attending high school or college full-time before and since May 12, 2005. Applicants would then attain six-year temporary visas that would allow them to work and travel.

After six years, these immigrants could apply for residency if they prove they have worked and paid all federal income taxes, passed medical and security checks, passed an English and civics test, and registered for Selective Service, according to a Fact Sheet released by the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.

Uriel Montoya, freshman in LAS and a member of La Colectiva, helped organize the rally. Montoya said that one of the most important aspects of the bill is that it would guarantee family reunification.

“Families being torn apart goes against American principles,” he said. “We’re asking Johnson to stop ignoring us, to take a stand on the issue and to stop avoiding the problem.”

However, the protesters’ attempt to urge Johnson into meeting with them did not go according to plan. The congressman was traveling on the road at the time of the rally, hosting a series of Medicare outreach events throughout the district.

Phil Bloomer, Johnson’s secretary, said Johnson has by no means being avoiding the issue.

“For them to represent the Congressman as stonewalling on this issue is completely wrong and dishonest,” Bloomer said.

Bloomer added that their office did not receive any prior notice that the rally was supposed to be taking place or that this particular group wanted to schedule a meeting with Johnson.

“These folks did not want to seem to show us the courtesy of alerting us that they wanted to talk about this issue at the time,” he said. “We’ve heard them, we’re aware of their concerns but there is a balance that we’ll have to weight when it comes to a vote.”

Bloomer pointed out that the congressman met with a variety of similar groups this past summer on the issue of comprehensive immigration reform and that he recognizes that this is an issue that is important to their community. Johnson even has a full-time immigration aide on staff whose job it is to help local residents with the naturalization process.

Bloomer said it is doubtful whether the bill will even be introduced for a vote this year.

“You look at the political reality of the time-a lot of nationalist feeling in this country right now as a result of 9/11,” he said. “Before that, there was a lot of talk in favor of immigration reform in the part of the president and Congress, but since then, the tide is starting to turn.”

However, many pro-immigration groups remain hopeful that the bill will be put to a vote this year.

For Sanchez, it could not be soon enough.

“Right now there are very, very few ways for undocumented immigrants to attain legal residency,” she said. “What happens is that people have to continue living in the shadows.”

Erendira Rendon, an undocumented immigrant and sophomore in LAS, refuses to live in the shadows.

Rendon faced the crowd holding a sign that framed a picture of her family. Underneath the picture were the words, “Keep My Family Together,” written in bold black marker.

“We call Harvard, Ill., my home, but we live in fear that one day it won’t be,” Rendon said in a speech to the cheering crowd. “I am here to ask him (Johnson) for hope. He can give me a fair chance to become a psychologist and succeed in life. The bill would allow my family complete and total freedom. I urge Congressman Johnson to stand up for what is American. To stand up for freedom.”

Aide Acosta, graduate student, also addressed the crowd, saying that the state of Illinois is the fifth largest recipient of immigration in this country and that in the case of East Central Illinois, the Latino/a population has been growing significantly.

“(The bill) would allow these families to live with dignity,” Acosta said. “In short, this reform is a human justice issue. We want our lives to be valued as much as our labor.”