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Immigration meeting kicks off reform campaign

Issue hits close to home for many Auburn residents
By: Andrew Westrope, Staff Writer
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To sign up for training seminars or join the Diocesan Immigration Support Network’s campaign, email Flora Csontos at

To read Rep. Tom McClintock’s full statement on immigration to the Archdiocese of Sacramento, visit www.tommcclintock.com/blog/immigration-issues

Anticipating a federal immigration bill in April, regional advocacy groups have started a campaign to give illegal immigrants a more efficient path to citizenship.

What started as a town hall meeting at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Sacramento on Wednesday ended as a rally, with chants and cheers from some 900 attendees thumping for new immigration policies. Event organizers say the meeting laid the groundwork for what they expect will be an ongoing campaign involving petitions, advocacy training and meetings with elected officials.

Event organizers counted more than 200 people from Placer County among the crowd, including many undocumented citizens and members of faith groups behind the event like the Catholic Diocese of Sacramento, Placer People of Faith Together and Sacramento Area Congregations Together (ACT).

Introducing a four-part proposal for immigration reform from the collective members of the Diocesan Immigration Support Network, speaker David Ramiraz called for an efficient path to citizenship, a fix for the current backlog of applications, worker protections for farm and migrant workers and stronger enforcement against real threats to public safety.

“Instead of fostering a stronger community, our current immigration system is breaking up families and creating a bigger community safety problem,” he said. “Because of their undocumented status and fear of deportation, many residents do not report crime, which puts the safety of all our neighborhoods at risk.”

Auburn resident Carol Carter, a pastor at Pioneer United Methodist Church and volunteer with a national campaign from the PICO (People Improving Communities through Organizing) Network, hoped the event would lend a voice to an often silent minority.

“What’s exciting to me is that people who have been hidden – invisible, pretty much – to our political processes are becoming more visible. Visible in the recent election, and visible in community actions like this,” Carter said. “We have children in our schools, we have teenagers who need to get through college and get work. All of that is stalemated by their undocumented status. They’re fearful. I’m surprised they’re courageous enough to come and get together, because of past policies of deportation.”

That fear was very personally familiar to many in the crowd, including Auburn resident Leticia Aceves, who shared her story on stage.

When they first spoke with immigration officials in 2001, Aceves and her husband were told they would have to wait 825 days for citizenship and assumed this meant they could get jobs and driver’s licenses in about two years. This changed after Sept. 11, 2001, as new policies put everything on hold.

“They said, ‘You know, we have a better system now. You have to wait, and there’s nothing you can do,” she said. “You cannot hire a lawyer, because there’s nothing they can do until they call you to the first appointment with them.”

And 12 years later, Aceves is still waiting. She said immigration services are just now processing applications filed in 1992, more than 20 years ago.

Aceves and her husband clean homes to pay bills and taxes – the Internal Revenue Service actually gave them each an ITIN (Individual Taxpayer Identification Number) so they could pay taxes while they wait for social security numbers – but live in constant fear of being deported.

“It is really hard for us to drive without a driver’s license, because we feel really exposed. If something happens, we don’t know if that can cause us deportation,” she said. “If something is wrong about your neighborhood, you’re afraid to call the police because you don’t know if you’re putting yourself at risk.”

Retired Sacramento high school teacher Silvia Moran also gave a testimony from personal experience, suggesting the current path to legal status and citizenship can cause many intelligent and dedicated children to “fall through the cracks.”

“Three of my brightest students had to drop out because their father fell on a job and got hurt, and their family obviously did not qualify for any social service,” she said. “This is just one example of many.”

Organizers framed their arguments with statistics aimed at elected officials – a PowerPoint presentation used U.S. Census data to show the non-white voting age population had grown by as much as 70 or 80 percent in some local districts between 2000 and 2010.

The only elected official who sent someone to address the crowd was Rep. Doris Matsui of the 6th Congressional District. Speaking for Matsui, Kellie Longe-Alberran would not comment on legislation or commit to a timeline until either was officially proposed in Congress. However, she pointed to Matsui’s past record of supporting similar proposals as “evidence of where she stands on the issue.”

“She supports you,” Longe-Alberran told the crowd. “She has a strong track record in the past for supporting such reform.”

Janie Evans, a member of the Sierra Foothills Unitarian Universalists Church in Auburn who also helped organize the event, read a statement from Rep. Tom McClintock’s office that received mixed reactions. Having personally met with McClintock’s staff more than once, Evans admitted she still has “no clue” where he stands on immigration reform. She said McClintock’s staff was not comfortable commenting on his plan for dealing with the nation’s current population of roughly 11 million undocumented citizens.

“There was a lot of talk about rule of law, and respecting the rule of law with regard to immigrants that are here undocumented, and the position they find themselves in are of their own making,” Evans said. “We were unable to get a frank position from Congressman McClintock on immigration reform.”

In his statement, McClintock said allowing illegal immigration would make the legal approach “pointless” and undermine the process of assimilation. He invited undocumented citizens to apply for citizenship the same way millions of other immigrants have done before.

“We should remember that millions of legal immigrants have taken that path to citizenship, have respected America’s sovereignty, have obeyed our laws, have done everything our country has asked of them, and have waited patiently in line to do so,” he said. “It is not fair to allow millions of illegal immigrants to cut in line in front of them.”

Hoping they have the attention of lawmakers, the organizations behind last week’s rally are planning more public outreach to preempt upcoming immigration reform, which the federal government expects to put together in April.

The Diocesan Immigration Support Network will host training seminars on April 12 in Sacramento and April 13 in Roseville to help volunteers discuss the campaign with the public, its goals and its relevance, and to share their own stories. It will also plan another public event, depending on what participants believe is necessary.

Community organizer Flora Csontos said groups of less than 10 will also attempt to schedule face-to-face meetings with congressional representatives in the last week of March.

Aceves said she is encouraged by shows of support, and though the political roadblocks will be difficult to navigate, they can’t be worse than waiting in fear and “living in the shadows.”

“It’s time to change something,” Aceves said. “Not free. We want to work hard for that, but we want something, the hope someday that we can drive without fear, that someday we can feel really part of this country.”