Blumenthal, Activists Call For Pathway To Citizenship For Undocumented Immigrants
By VANESSA DE LA TORRE
February 05, 2013
HARTFORD —— U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal stood with young activists Monday as they called for immigration reform that would include a path to citizenship not only for undocumented students, but for the parents who brought them to this country illegally.
"Our whole life is over here," said Matias Garcia, 18, a senior at Maloney High School in Meriden who came to the U.S. about a decade ago from Uruguay.
His sister Sabrina, a 17-year-old honors student, told reporters gathered at the Center For Latino Progress on Park Street that she worries about their family being split apart.
"Stop criminalizing our parents," said Camila Bortolleto, 24, of Danbury, a Western Connecticut State University graduate from Brazil whose family overstayed a tourist visa when she was 9.
While the Garcia siblings and Bortolleto were recently accepted into the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — a new, limited form of relief that grants a work permit to certain young immigrants — it does not protect their mothers and fathers from possible deportation.
A swell of momentum for the immigrant-rights movement since the presidential election, in which Latinos overwhelmingly voted to re-elect President Barack Obama, could change that landscape.
Obama and a bipartisan group of senators each outlined proposals last week that would allow the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. to apply for legal residency, then move to "the back of the line" to gain citizenship, a process that could take years.
The first House Judiciary Committee hearing on immigration began Tuesday morning.
Blumenthal said Monday that he supports an expedited path to citizenship for the students known as "DREAMers," named after the legislation that failed to pass Congress in 2010. The DREAM Act proposed a way for young immigrants who came here illegally as children, such as the Garcias and Bortolleto, to gain legal status if they serve in the military or pursue college.
Blumenthal has held held up large photographs of undocumented students and told their stories on the Senate floor in recent months. "It took great courage for them to come forward," he said.
Blumenthal said he has spoken with Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, chairman of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on immigration, refugees and border security, and believes that a bill could be proposed by late spring. He described the current immigration system as "dysfunctional" and susceptible to worker exploitation and human trafficking.
Blumenthal argued that an overhaul would improve national security because of the background checks that would be required of applicants. He denied that the reform would constitute "amnesty," saying undocumented immigrants need to "earn" citizenship by paying a fine, back taxes and meeting other criteria.
Eight senators, including Schumer, developed the bipartisan framework that allows a pathway to citizenship "that is contingent upon securing our borders," according to the proposal. Yanil Teron, executive director of the Center For Latino Progress, said that vague language and a few other provisions, such as the fine, has made activists cautious.
Jose Diaz arrived late to Monday's press conference after relying on a CTTransit bus and his own hurried footsteps to get to Park Street. The 20-year-old said he does not have a driver's license or any legal documents establishing U.S. residency after his family moved to Georgia from Acapulco, Mexico, when he was 10.
Diaz, a student at Capital Community Community in Hartford, has lived in New Britain for the past five years with his 14-year-old brother and father, who are all undocumented.
"It worries me every day that my mother or father can get stopped," said Diaz, an organizer with the advocacy group Somos CT. Simply driving a car stirs fears of deportation for his dad, he said.
Juan Hernandez, assistant district leader for Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ, estimated Monday that as many as 3,000 union members in Connecticut are undocumented immigrants.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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