I just got back from the rally for comprehensive immigration reform in Pittsburgh, part of the nationwide day of action expected to draw as many as two million people.
Pittsburgh doesn’t have a huge immigrant community, and the rally here was nothing compared to the large-scale events in many other major cities. In fact we got in the news mostly for starting earlier than any other city.
About 100 of us gathered downtown at 8am and marched to Senator Specter’s office. The crowd included immigrants, labor and religious leaders, and sympathetic locals. The marchers geared themselves up by chanting ‘Si, Se Puede!’ (“Yes, We Can!”). One immigrant carried a sign that read ‘Immigrants Love Steelers,’ which received a lot of friendly honks from passing cars. (Other passing cars were not so friendly; one car gunned the gas as we crossed the street, as if they were going to run us over, while screaming hostile slurs at us).
I was at the rally to represent the ACLU, but I was also there to represent my family, many of whom came in to this country in the last three decades as refugees from both Vietnam and the former Soviet Union. The immigrants in my family have contributed so much to this country, across the socio-economic spectrum–they include a doctor, two engineers, two small business owners, a nanny, and a nurse. This country means everything to them. They are so patriotic that they often put me to shame, and remind me of all the wonderful things about this country that are too easy to take for granted if you were born here.
When I lived in Austin, TX, I worked mostly with illegal immigrants. One of my friends, Luis, worked two minimum wage jobs to support his family of three. His son had just graduated as valedictorian of his high school class. Luis was so proud of his family; every penny he made went to them. He was epitome of true ‘family values.’ It is hard for me to comprehend that House Bill 4437 would likely make Luis a felon.
Not to trivialize a very serious and complicated problem–our current system is obviously not working. But to criminalize 11 million people for trying to improve their lives is not only profoundly un-American, it would be almost impossible to implement.
So wherever you live, now is the time to call your Senators and ask them to support COMPREHENSIVE immigration reform, not legislation that only focuses on enforcement without incorporating the larger picture.
Lisa in Pittsburgh