'Pilgrims' complete walk to Anderson, demand path to citizenship

November 4, 2013 | The Herald Bulletin | Link to Article

ANDERSON — Janett Orozco's feet were sore by the time she reached the front of the Anderson City Building on Monday afternoon.

It was nothing compared to the difficult path the 16-year-old said she's had to walk as an undocumented citizen from an immigrant family.

Orozco and 10 others from similar backgrounds completed a four-day, 50-mile walk that took them from Indianapolis to Anderson. The walk was meant to be symbolic of their desired path to citizenship, a path they hope will be clearer if an immigration reform bill currently in the U.S. House of Representatives is passed.

The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, also known as H.R. 15, was passed by the Senate in June. The bill is a sweeping overhaul to immigration law that provides current undocumented immigrants with a pathway to citizenship and doubles the size of the border patrol.

"I'm here to tell my story," Orozco said. "I'm 16. My family and I came here when I was very young. Indiana has been my home for 15 years, and it's all I know. I consider myself an American. Yet, I'm still called an illegal, and it's difficult. That's something a lot of people don't understand. It puts up a lot of barriers. In education, in getting a driver's license, working. We need to fix immigration."

The pilgrims, as they called themselves, met with about 100 supporters at the City Building and urged them to contact U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks, R-5th District, and ask her to endorse the bill. The act, which was drafted in the Democrat-controlled Senate, recently picked up support from Rep. David Valadao, R-Calif. But Valadao is only the third Republican representative to lend his support. With the 218 votes required to pass and 231 Republicans in the House, the bill is still expected to fall well short of the needed support.

But the pilgrims and their supporters were still hopeful. Cynthia Perez said they would be meeting with Brooks to convince her to endorse the bill. For some of the supporters of the bill, their lives could be drastically affected if the act doesn't pass.

"I think they'll see that if this passes, it will act as a gear the economy needs to start improving," said Jose Olan. "We want to send a message to Brooks that there are 11 million immigrants that will be affected by this. We're looking for a better life for ourselves, and our kids. And we deserve a chance."

Anderson University Assistant Dean of Student Life Michelle Williams was also in attendance, and said immigration reform could have an effect on many of her students. She said undocumented residents hoping to get college education usually have to work much harder than citizens, can't get federal grants, scholarships or loans and aren't guaranteed jobs after graduation.

"I usually tell my students to have a voice and advocate for themselves, but I want to be here for them, too," Williams said.