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Congressmen Hear From Families Torn Apart by Immigration Law

New America Media, News Report, Text: Raj Jayadev // Video: Adrian Avila and Tiburon Posted: Apr 25, 2009

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- In St. Victors, a humble yet crowded eastside San Jose church, Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) and Representative Michael Honda (D-Calif.) sat transfixed, and at times teary-eyed, last week as they bore witness.

They, along with religious leaders from the different faiths that make up Silicon Valleys diverse communities, were there to hear personal testimonies from immigrant families who have had loved ones deported, opportunities denied, and dreams deferred due to current immigration law.

The congressmen spearheaded the event called Family Unity as part of a national effort to set the stage for President Obamas comprehensive immigration reform agenda.

Rep. Michael Honda and Rep. Gutierrez to Host National Immigration Tour Stop in San Jose from debugtv on Vimeo.

While the San Jose stop was the the last but one of the 20 cities Gutierrez had taken this traveling call-to-action to, it was the first that focused on the voices and experiences of the Asian and Pacific Islander (API) community.

The effort of inclusion was intended help foster a more broad-based movement for immigration reform. And as Honda, chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, then told the audience of roughly 400 attendees, At a national level, the API community is often times left out of the debate, our voices silenced, and then fall between the cracks, but not this time.

Noting that May was Asian Pacific Heritage Month, he went on to say, I hope to amplify API voices and bring to Washington their stories of family hardship, stifled futures of bright students, and decades of family separation.

Among the testimonies delivered at Family Unity was one by Agnes, an elderly Filipina who shared a harrowing story of her family who has been unable to properly respond to a medical concern due to immigration restrictions. She shared how her brother, Digno, was recently diagnosed with cancer, but his wife, who is undocumented, cannot find work to pay for medical bills and other basic needs due to her status. She cant drive either, and I do my best by taking her to the grocery store and looking after the kids.

While the health concerns of Digno weigh heavily on the family, Agnes says there is also still the ever-looming fear, that one day, Dignos dear children will come home from school and their mom will have been deported. She implored Congressman Honda and Gutierrez to act quickly. This system is broken. Our family cannot afford to be separated. Please help us.

Gutierrez, after hearing testimonies like Agness for most of the evening, responded with a rousing speech in both English and Spanish that brought standing ovations for both. He told the crowd that President Obama, who he has met with as part of the Hispanic Caucus to discuss timelines around immigration reform, already made his commitment to pathways to legalization during his run for office. He told us, first year, first term; now we need to hold him to his word.

Gutierrez was in San Jose in 2007, drumming up public support when Comprehensive Immigration Reform was on the House and Senate floor. Despite an outpouring of support, the legislation failed to gain the required votes.

When asked how this moment could lend itself to a different outcome, Gutierrez says, For one thing, were matured and weve increased the level of support that we have nationally.

And while Gutierrez acknowledges the economic climate may color the discussion around immigration reform, he remains optimistic. Comparing the need for comprehensive immigration reform to struggles such as the civil rights movement and the suffrage movement, he said, Look, they can always say its not a good time, but we have to deal with this moral crisis.

Gutierrez says the next step is mass rallies across the country planned for May 9th. They are aimed at catching the Presidents attention, in fact, will be back-dropped with banners quoting Obamas immigration promise.

The day was chosen since May 10th is celebrated as Mothers Day for many people from Latin America. Gutierrez left the congregation with a mandate to organize for May 9th and beyond.

We cant have a Democratic majority and a Democratic president that says its committed to the rights of immigrants, yet still have a federal government that rips children out of mothers arms.

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