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Momentum swelling for immigration reform

June 19, 2013 | Nuvo | Link to Article

Rally for Immigration Reform

Clergy, business and labor leaders unite in support of "Pathway to Citizenship" legislation now pending in the U.S. Senate

By Fran Quigley

Lupe Pimentel grew up in Indianapolis and attended Pike Township schools. Now 20 years old, she is a student at Ivy Tech, an active community volunteer, and has a wide circle of friends. But her life is far different than the life most of those friends lead.

Pimentel cannot drive a vehicle or work at a paying job. She can only afford to take a class or two at a time because her college tuition is three times what her friends pay. Her grandmother is ailing in Mexico, but Pimentel cannot visit her.

Pimentel's parents brought her to Indianapolis from Veracruz, Mexico, when she was just 6 years old. She found out she was an undocumented immigrant when she was in eighth grade. Pimentel was completing the application for a scholarship program and discovered she did not have a Social Security number to include on the form. That scholarship became the first of many opportunities closed to her. Despite Indianapolis being the only home she knows, Pimentel is an undocumented immigrant and seems doomed to a life of second-class status here.

"But hopefully, that will be changing, sooner than later," she said.

The most immediate opportunity for change sits with an immigration reform bill currently pending in the U.S. Senate that would provide a route to legal status for 11 million aspiring Americans like Pimentel.

A crowd of about 150 people marched Downtown on Saturday, waving signs, banging drums, and chanting slogans such as, "We are all Americans!/Todos somos Americanos!" A coalition of local faith and labor leaders organized the "Pathway to Citizenship" rally to encourage U.S. Senator Joe Donnelly, an Indiana Democrat, to support the pending legislation.

In response to a request for Donnelly's stance on the current reform effort, his press secretary forwarded the following statement:

"The Senate has started a multiple week debate on bipartisan immigration reform legislation. I am in the process of reviewing the legislation, and I will be carefully studying the many amendments that will be offered."

In response to NUVO's request for an assessment on the proposed reform legislation from Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., his press secretary forwarded the following statement attributed to Coats:

"I believe we must repair our broken immigration system for economic and national security reasons, and I welcome a debate on this important issue.

"Immigration reform must take place through an open, fair and thorough debate with the input of the American people. However, I have serious concerns with the current text of the legislation that came out of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and believe it needs to be improved before I could support it.

"As the ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, I am particularly focused on ensuring that we secure our borders as part of any immigration bill. I have traveled to the southwest border and have seen firsthand the challenges we continue to face to secure our country's borders. I also believe immigration reform should include measures to improve employer verification and strengthen the exit system, especially given that approximately 40 percent of all illegal individuals here today come to the U.S. legally but then overstay their visas."

The immigration reform movement has a wide base of local support. A recent poll from the Public Religion Research Institute showed that two-thirds of Hoosiers believe undocumented immigrants should be provided a path to legal citizenship. Another poll, conducted by Harper Polling and sponsored by the Alliance for Citizenship, Partnership for a New American Economy and Republicans for Immigration Reform, reported similar sentiments among those questioned.

From a pool of 509 "likely voters" (44 percent of whom identified as Republicans, 33 percent as Democrats, and 23 percent as independent), the Harper poll found that 69 percent of respondents "strongly or somewhat support bipartisan immigration reform legislation being debated in Washington."

Nearly all of those polled — 92 percent — said it was "very or somewhat important that the U.S. fix its immigration system this year" and 47 percent of respondents reported being "more likely to vote for an elected official who supports comprehensive immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship."

Harper said its poll had a margin of error of less then 5 percent.

"The results of this statewide poll should be yet another indication to our elected officials in Washington that their constituents want, and are ready for, a real and lasting solution to mend our broken immigration system," Mayor Tom Henry of Fort Wayne said in a news release accompanying the Harper poll data.

"Comprehensive immigration reform is one of the rare issues that is both good politics and good policy. There is bipartisan support for the Senate bill that includes a path to citizenship."

Powerful Indiana organizations including Eli Lilly and Company, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis, and the Indiana Chamber of Commerce support the proposed reform legislation, along with the state's top labor leaders.

Pimentel, who spoke at the rally Saturday, would like to get a degree in education and become a teacher of elementary students. Her hope is that events like Saturday's rally provide material for future civic lessons.

"The community is here, and the community has spoken," Pimentel said, pointing to the clergy and the labor union leaders lined up to speak, and listing the prominent businesses who support the reform. "It is time for Senator Donnelly to listen to the community who he represents. "