by David Safier
I'm visiting DC as a tourist, and I stumbled, almost literally, onto a press conference for the National Council of La Raza's "National Latino Advocacy Days." Over 400 Latinos from 31 states came to DC to advocate for a comprehensive Immigration Reform bill. Though the conference room in the House of Representatives' Rayburn Building was packed and overflowing into the hall, most of the advocates were visiting the offices of Representatives and Senators talking about the need for comprehensive immigration reform.
Janet Murguia, president and CEO of NCLR, spoke about the urgent need for immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship. "The Latino community will not accept second class status," she said.
(From left to right: Janet Murguia, Esther Reyes, Elizabeth Perez, Mauricio Calvo)
Esther Reyes, executive director, Austin Immigration Rights Coalition, talked about how her group targeted Texas' lowest turnout precincts, which are predominantly Latino, and increased voter turnout by 30%. Mauricio Calvo, executive director, Latino Memphis, talked about the 9 students who drove 14 hours to DC in the storm to talk to their elected officials. The result: "Former supporters of this issue have become champions."
The most powerful talk came from Elizabeth Perez. She's an ex-Marine, a mother and a spouse. In 2010, her husband was stopped for running a red light and was deported because he's undocumented. That day, she had been about to tell him she was pregnant with their second child; they already had a 4 month old infant. He waited over two years for a visa interview. He was denied and told he couldn't reapply until 2020.
"The system failed my family," Perez said, fighting back tears. "I've spent a decade serving my country, and now I'm being exiled from my country." She's working on a college degree, and as soon as she's finished, she plans to join her husband in Mexico so her children can have their father back.
After the press conference, I spoke with Gloria Choez who was sitting next to me, a Family Worker at a Head Start facility in Brooklyn, NY. She and 4 other New Yorkers came to DC for the two day event and spoke to as many members of Congress as they could.
As I left the press conference, I saw groups of Latino young people sitting in the halls waiting for a chance to talk with someone and advocate for comprehensive immigration reform.