Time is now for pathway to citizenship, say immigrant supporters at Capitol

“Citizenship–the time is now!” rang from Capitol Hill yesterday at the Immigration Reform Rally. Thousands packed the West Lawn to tell Congress that comprehensive reform of immigration policy–and a pathway to citizenship–is needed now.

They couldn’t have picked a better time. Although planned for months by a large number of organizations, the rally coincides with Obama’s push for immigration reform and a Senate committee haggling over a new bill. Harboring regrets over the 2012 election, Republicans seem poised to defy their base intent on deportation and finally make some concessions to get a bill passed.

It’s the first time since 2007 that Congress has taken on the reality of 11 million undocumented immigrants living and working in the U.S.–many of them well-established in communities with their families. According to a Pew Research study, the majority of undocumented immigrants arrived in the U.S. before 2000. Only 1.6 million of the total number have entered the country since 2005.

Protestor Joyce Tarnow of Florida

Immigrants with citizenship and work permits who attended the rally were eager to express their support. Luís from Stafford, Virginia said he came to the U.S. from El Salvador illegally. Now a citizen, he’s worked for the same landscaping company for 25 years.

Standing alongside his friends and co-workers Alcía and Arturo, he said, “We didn’t come over here because we are criminals. We came over here because they are poor in our country.”

People came to Washington, DC from all across the U.S. bearing signs and flags from their home states, as well as flags from their homelands such as Peru, Nicaragua, Mexico, Columbia, Argentina, Venezuela.

Although Hispanics made up a large portion of rally attendees and speeches from the stage were delivered in Spanish, many people were immigrants from Mideast countries such as Syria, Libya, Tunisia, and African countries such as Somalia, Ethiopia, and Mali.

A few protestors against “amnesty” for immigrants clustered by the Reflecting Pool. One of them, Joyce Tarnow from north Florida propped up a huge sign saying, “12,000,000 out of work.” She and rally attendee Johar Ali, a Canadian, engaged in a civil debate about the immigration issue. In spite of the focus of Tarnow’s sign, the discussion pivoted more around the environment and scarce resources than jobs.

“Our water table has been going down in the the central part of the U.S. for decades. There has been less water available, there will be less production,” she said, expressing her concern for rising population growth.

Ali, on the other hand, saw problems arising for countries with stagnating population growth. China, for example, is in “big trouble” because of their one-child policy. Workers are retiring, he said, and “you don’t have enough [people] to fill in their shoes.” Without population growth from immigration in the U.S., he argued, “Social Security will disappear.”

Federal benefits are often a sticking point in the immigration debate. But conservative proponents for immigration reform are countering the traditional argument that immigrants are a drain on resources. They point to a report by the American Action Forum which says that legitimizing undocumented workers will boost GDP and tax revenue over the long term.

For many people at the rally, however, changing immigration policy is not about macro-economics but keeping their families together.

One girl at the rally wore a t-shirt saying, “My Dad deserves citizenship.” An estimated 5.5 million children in the U.S. have one or more parents who are undocumented immigrants, according to a report released in 2011 by the Applied Research Center.

Luís, the landscaper from El Salvador who gained citizenship, feels for children in this situation. “Children suffer from this,” he said. “I see the news, the breaking heart news, all the little kids living in the U.S. without any parents.”

The eight senators working to draft the legislation may have cleared a hurdle by agreeing to measures related to border security. Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, one of the members of the bipartisan group, told the rally crowd that they were nearly ready to present the bill.

John Zangas contributed to this article.

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I’m a conservative, and I don’t feel like voting

Image by DonkeyHotey

by Tamara Stoneburner

I’m voting in the Republican primary when I don’t feel like it. I’m a conservative at heart and certainly when it regards my own ethos.

Though when it comes to intimate issues of faith and sexuality and the decisions and consequences that fall out from what you personally follow, I cannot support a government that dares to mandate these things for an individual. That’s not what a government is for… not really. That’s not where a government belongs. That’s not where a government is most effective. There’s a higher existence for that sort of thing.

And while I’m presently frustrated with the Republican ballot and the extremist vocals that currently represent my entire party (I’m talking about you, Rush Limbaugh, you arrogant son of a something… you need to take a lesson from Mark Levin, who hasn’t forgotten common civility and the art of debate and political analysis and humility… a true and strong old-school Republican voice), I STILL VOTE. I show up at the polls even when Santorum insults my voting privilege by not even trying to get his name on the Virginia ballot. What is your excuse anyway, Rick? Are you in this race or aren’t you? Hell, even Gingrich tried though he fell short of the quota of signatures. And Ron Paul, bless his heart. He is on the Virginia ballot. And if his foreign policy wasn’t so damned conciliatory and unpolished and kowtowing to the Middle East and Asia regarding weapons distribution and responsibility, I’d have strongly considered him.

I do vote Republican because I believe in fiscal analysis and stability. I believe that America can be the ultimate “comeback kid” and resurrect the small-business strength and industry that once was ours. I believe we shouldn’t feel guilty for having the strongest military and daring to maintain it. I don’t believe in welfare (not the atrocious, utterly bastardized and corrupted welfare ticket we’ve been running since the 70’s… a far cry from the mindset we held in the 30’s and 40’s that catalyzed the programs to begin with… the ones that truly tried to help without stripping one’s dignity). I think people are better than that and should be held to a higher standard. They should have the opportunity to be trained and be educated in any fashion they deem appropriate for their situation.

I believe in Border Patrol. It’s not because I detest Mexicans or feel they don’t belong here. That’s bogus. Of course they do, as long as they follow the guidelines that any other immigrant has to go through to gain honest citizenship. And yes, learn the damn language. It won’t diminish you to do so; in fact it strengthens your position by creating a bilingual skill. It won’t take away your national pride or point of origin. If it does, there are potentially bigger issues here. If I were to emigrate to another country, I’d expect to learn its language just to fit in and communicate properly and obtain work. This is a requisite. I believe in Border Patrol because a sloppily protected border allows any extremist faction from any country to smuggle its way in by hook or by crook for the sole purpose of hurting this country. It’s a vulnerability we cannot afford or recover quickly enough from once compromised. Unfortunately, Mexico and South America are channels for both drug and weapons cartels that all too easily provide that side door. It’s never about the people personally, it’s about what standards are allowed to flourish. It’s about that point of jeopardy that all societies possess.

And frankly, we need crowd control. We are not the United States of the World. We should be choosy about who we allow because we can only subscribe to so much before we weaken our core reserves. One shouldn’t kill the golden goose.

I detest the result of affirmative action (it’s a great concept on paper ONLY). I feel that my generation was the last to actually get what you got according to the level of effort that was exerted. You had to prove you had oral/written skills… you had to apply and write essays for scholarships and grants. You had to interview and do research on whatever company or agency where you wanted to land a job. You had to genuinely do extracurricular activities to prove you had teamwork and people skills. And if you wanted to place early in college, you damn well had to jump through hoops and test well and take the AP courses. You had to debate and look someone directly in the eye. If you were an artist applying for a position, you’d better have a buttressing portfolio. It didn’t matter what country you were born in or what ratio mix of color and race you were. You simply just had to work your ass off by any means and actually give a damn. Oh, you didn’t make the cut? Well, don’t you have bootstraps? Start pulling and try another avenue. Reinvent yourself. That’s what the fuck this country is about. When did we stop believing in the true cream of the crop… the best of the best… the tried and the true (to throw out yet another cliché)? When did we stop believing in accountability and responsibility?

Yes, I’m upset and yes, this is a full-on rant. And yes, I voted today in an unpopular primary for an unpopular political party. You have to continue trying. You have to have some spirit. You have to hope that what you believe in is enough to return it all to the positive roots.

And I realize that most of my friends are Liberals and Democratic-affiliated. I’m okay with that. I don’t think any less of you; you’re fighting the same stance as I am, but from another direction and trajectory. Probably most of them aren’t aware that I even hold these views. And there have been times when certain friends have held it bitterly against me that I’m conservative. Know that I’m not attacking you, and I really am not asking for any replies or debates here. I’m just at my wit’s end at so many levels and needed to write about some of it.

Tamara Stoneburner is an artist and calligrapher who lives in Virginia.