America might be a country of immigrants, but a group of Hispanic leaders and students gathering Saturday, Oct. 5, at the Jefferson County Courthouse say they’re angry with politicians in Washington and that their elected representatives need to bring thousands of Beaumont’s residents out of the shadows and onto a path to legal citizenship.
At least 50 Hispanic students and their families gathered at the courthouse Saturday, Oct. 5, for an immigration march. Those in attendance, many of whom had just completed the Julie Rogers 5K run, gathered to ask their local representative, Rep. Randy Weber, to support comprehensive immigration reform.
“It’s young kids who are losing their parents due to the processes of deportation,” said Paul Rodriguez, a Lamar junior who helped organize the march. “Most of these young kids are U.S. citizens.”
Rodriguez, 21, said he was brought to America by his parents more than 20 years ago and since then, he’s struggled with his residency issues and visas to stay in the country legally. He said, although President Obama has supported a legal path to citizenship, his actions speak louder than words.
“Under President Obama, deportations have continued and he is actually the chief of deportations right now. He’s deported more people than any president of the United States,” Rodriguez said. “So we want to send a message right now that these are families. These are fathers taking care of their children. These are mothers that are some of Weber’s constituents, so we’re trying to figure out a way to send the message that immigration reform is highly needed in our area.”
Rodriguez compared the plight of illegal immigrants around the U.S. to that of blacks during the 1960s-era civil rights movement.
“This is the human rights issue of our era,” he said. “Our system is really broken and we want to contribute back, not just for ourselves, but for our communities.”
Chuy Perales was also at the march and helped to organize students and others to attend. After graduating from Lamar University with a degree in political science, Perales said Washington’s band-aid approach to immigration reform won’t be enough.
“A comprehensive immigration reform bill is something that would cover the 11 million undocumented immigrants, right? What we’re seeing right now is a lot of piece-meal legislation that is really geared toward undocumented students,” Perales said. “For us it’s not really an option to leave our parents out of that equation. We don’t see them as temporary workers. We see them as part of our lives and we need a bill that would cover them as well.”
In the end, Perales said Weber and many others should re-evaluate their stance against comprehensive immigration reform.
“Currently, we’re seeing some bipartisanship when it comes to the current immigration reform debate. We are seeing some Republicans moving in the right direction, and we encourage that,” Perales said. “What I would say to them is just really take a look at the immigrant community and who they are. They’re students, they’re families. They’re individuals that have conservative values. These are potential future Republicans, if the Republican Party would just be more open and accepting of them.”
Look around, Perales said, undocumented immigrants are everywhere and are just as normal and hard working as the next American family.
“It really comes down to understanding that the immigrant community isn’t a homogenous community. It’s very diverse. These are college students, high school students. A lot of people are surprised to hear that some of us are undocumented. People say ‘Oh, you speak English so well and you’ve been in this country since you were little. How is it possible you’re still undocumented?’” Perales said. “People have a certain image, but it’s not necessarily accurate.”
In the current toxic atmosphere of politics in D.C., Perales and Rodriguez said they’re nonetheless hopeful that a comprehensive solution to the immigration issue will be reached.
“It’s just the humane thing and the right thing to do,” Perales said.