“It’s only fair to expect the party that won the election to carry out its commitment,” Congressmember Luis Gutierrez told a cheering crowd in south Minneapolis. “When it came to raising the minimum wage, we didn’t wait for Republicans,” said Gutierrez, “and we shouldn’t wait for Republicans for comprehensive immigration reform.”
About a thousand people gathered at Incarnation Church in Minneapolis June 14, urging changes in immigration laws to allow family reunification and to end raids and deportations. Liberian, Somali and Mexican immigrants and supporters heard Christian, Jewish and Muslim religious leaders and government officials call for comprehensive immigration reform.
Congressmembers Keith Ellison (MN) and Luis Gutierrez (IL) led the call for reform. Minnesota officials present included Senators Patricia Torres-Ray, Paul Thissen, and John Marty and representatives from the offices of Senator Amy Klobuchar and Congressmember Erik Paulson, and the mayor of Brooklyn Center, Tim Wilson.
Despite the presence of politicians and other leaders, the most powerful voices were those of young people telling their own stories, sometimes fighting back tears. To read their stories, click on each photo or name in the sidebar.
Gutierrez, who has been traveling across the country drumming up support for immigration law changes, challenged President Barack Obama to live up to the promises of his campaign and to take action now. “He can stop the raids and give humanitarian relief to all these families now,” said Gutierrez, “until the Congress of the United States steps up and passes comprehensive immigration reform.”
He noted that President Obama met with Congressional Hispanic caucus leaders and promised to convene a meeting on immigration reform in May. Then the date was postponed to June 8, and then to June 17. Speaking in Spanish, he urged those present to admonish the president with affection, but to be persistent and insist that the president keep his promise for immigration reform.
Family reunification was the dominant theme for Gutierrez, Ellison and the immigrant youth who spoke. They emphasized that families have been separated by the immigration system, both by deportation of family members and by lack of avenues for reunification even after a family member has been admitted to the United States as a refugee.
Queyonnoh Parker said she lives in “constant fear” because “my mother is threatened with deportation every year along with thousands of Liberians on Temporary Protected Status, after living here legally and contributing to Minnesota’s economy for nearly two decades.” As a U.S. citizen by birth, Parker fears separation from her mother, who is not a citizen.
Twelve-year-old Irene Rodriguez is also a U.S. citizen by birth. She recalled her father’s deportation: “I cried a lot and missed him but that didn’t matter either. No amount of heartbreak from his children and his wife would bring him back.” She said she believes that, “the worst part of the Immigration system is that they deport people that belong to families. This separates them, and destroys childhoods and marriages.”
Speaking about his own marriage and family, Gutierrez said, “I made that commitment in my church and before God. And no one should ever interfere and destroy what God has brought together. It should just never happen.”
“The message today is community activism,” said Ellison. “The legislative agenda is full .. we have all kinds of other issues but immigration must be a front-burner issue in Washington now.” He called for a clear path to citizenship for every person living in the United States, a clear path to family reunification, eliminating the backlog of family reunification cases, and holding employers to standards set by labor laws.
A spokesperson from Congressmember Erik Paulson’s office read a statement on his behalf that began, “To all my friends in the Liberian community,” and affirmed his belief that “the U.S. immigration system is confusing and broken. No system of laws is just if it tears families apart.”