Last fall, in the final push to convince legislators to pass immigration reform – voices that had so far been quiet, spoke up. They were dairymen, potato growers, and ranchers and business owners. They are the voices of rural America.
Small towns and rural communities are the heart and soul of our country. They are the places where many of us grew up; the places where we formed our values and learned about the importance of family and relationships.
Families are at the heart of the push to fix our broken immigration system, this is something rural communities understand well.
Last year, 368,644 people – husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, sons and daughters – were deported from the U.S. Families were torn apart as people were taken from their homes, jobs and communities.
Throughout our country, children live in fear of losing – and never seeing – their parents again. Families are forced to live in the shadows, afraid to report crimes to the police, afraid to drive to work, go shopping or get involved with their children’s school. When a family loses a provider, they lose income and are pushed into poverty.
The “immigration principles” released by Republicans this week show deep disregard for protecting families and strengthening our communities.
There is no pathway to citizenship. The only real offer by the Republicans, is to wear a Scarlet Letter – to admit culpability, to pass rigorous background checks, pay significant fines and back taxes, and support themselves and their families without access to public benefits.
Kica Matos, the spokeswoman for Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM), the nation’s largest immigrant rights coalition, responded quickly to the GOP proposal:
“The principles are more evidence that Republicans seem to not understand the mass heartbreak they cause within our communities,” she said. “The era of breaking communities apart is over. This is about family and equality, and in a sense about the survival of the American dream itself. We will not stop until there is justice for our families.”
We are at a tipping point in our country. As President Obama said in his State of the Union speech Tuesday, “if we are serious about economic growth, it is time to heed the call of business leaders, labor leaders, faith leaders, and law enforcement – and fix our broken immigration system.
“When people come here to fulfill their dreams – to study, invent, and contribute to our culture – they make our country a more attractive place for businesses to locate and create jobs for everyone,” Obama said.
Farmers, ranchers, small business owners, factory workers understand better than anyone the value immigrants add to our country and the value immigration reform will bring to our economy.
Fair immigration reform with a real opportunity to contribute, and a real future, will strengthen the fabric of America.
To those in the rural communities, the heartland, and throughout the country who have remained silent, now is the time to add your voice. We are all stronger together.
Fernando Mejia is an organizer for the Alliance for a Just Society.