Reactions: Immigrant Rights Groups Won’t Settle For Anything Less Than a Path to Citizenship

Members of the Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM) applauded President Obama for making immigration reform his top priority and are encouraged by the bipartisan plan issued by a group of Senators, while stressing the importance of lawmakers focusing on keeping families together.

“FIRM is adamant that all immigration bills that come before Congress must include a path to citizenship, and keeping all families together,” said FIRM spokesperson Kica Matos, also the Director of Immigrant Rights and Racial Justice for the Center for Community Change, which is a member of FIRM. “Our current patchwork of failed and mismanaged immigration policies is tearing families apart every day. Today, the President put that reality and some of the solutions which would create a more just and humane immigration system front and center.”

“A roadmap to citizenship must be fair and without insurmountable barriers so that it will not take decades for immigrants to become full-fledged Americans,” Matos added. “Latinos and immigrants spoke loud and clear during the 2012 elections and we will continue to harness our political power to get an immigration bill passed that includes citizenship and measures that keep families together in this country.”

FIRM has launched a campaign called “Keeping Families Together” to give a voice to undocumented people living in our country. The men, women and children who have had their families torn apart by our nation’s broken immigration are speaking out about the need for reform that includes a path to citizenship.

Present today at Obama’s speech was Zuleyma Barajas, a Deferred Action recipient. Zuleyma and her sister were brought toAmericaby their parents fromMexico. Last June, the President took a moral stand to protect young undocumented immigrants eligible for the DREAM Act from deportation.

“This is my country, I’ve been here since I was a child,” Zuleyma said. “My sister and I are grateful for our Deferred Action status, but I want my parents to have the same opportunity to remain inAmericaand continue to work toward our citizenship.”

Zuleyma worked with the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) last year helping the group inform registered voters to go to the polls. She hopes to be able to vote in the next election cycle.

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Ali Noorani, Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum:

“Today the president affirmed and built the momentum for immigration reform that bipartisan leaders in the Senate rallied behind on Monday. We are pleased that political leaders in both parties are finally hearing the calls of Americans across the political spectrum who want a better immigration process now, for the good of our families, our communities and our economy.”

Greisa Martinez, a leader fromDallas,TXand member of United We Dream’s National Coordinating Committee, who was inLas Vegasfor the speech:

“Today, President Obama spoke out strongly in support of immigration reform with a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants.  The President’s speech echoed the call from both the American people and a bipartisan group of Senators to pass immigration reform with citizenship at the center.  Just last week, DREAMers across the country organized rallies, vigils, and events in an outcry for leadership from the President on immigration and it looks like he heard us loud and clear.

We will keep fighting to make sure LGBT families are afforded the same protections as every other family and that the path to citizenship for all undocumented Americans is fair, direct, and straightforward.

We know that this fight will not be easy and that it’ll require holding leaders of both parties accountable for delivering. We can’t let politicians create a schizophrenic plan that hands over more resources to out-of-control immigration agents and privatized detention centers—already overflowing with tax dollars—to harass and deport our families, while at the same time creating a roadmap to citizenship for these same people.

As long as Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and her agents are still undermining the President’s vision every day, DREAMers will keep fighting.  Just this month, Secretary Napolitano defended agents who raided the home of our friend Erika Andiola and detained her mom and brother.  The President can begin to make good on his commitment to our community by finally ending the deportations of future citizens.

President Obama and Congress must not only say the right things on immigration but must also set politics aside and work together to craft legislation that puts us and our families and communities on a road to citizenship, in a fair and straightforward manner.  Our movement has proven that we have the power to win and we won’t let up until we do.”

Greenlining Institute Executive Director Orson Aguilar:

“We are heartened that Congress and the president are addressing comprehensive immigration reform, something that’s long overdue. But all involved need to make sure that any legislation really moves us toward a better, fairer system and avoid the political temptation to take a bad deal just to be able to say they ‘did something about immigration.’ I see four principles as essential:

“First, immigration reform absolutely must include a clear path to citizenship for hard-working individuals and families who came to this country to work, contribute and build a better life.

“Second, we should not create a group of second-class citizens through a guest worker program. Such programs are open to exploitation and leave workers without the protections they need and deserve.

“Third, we must make family reunification a priority, with rules that respect all families.

“Finally, companies that want more visas for highly skilled workers should be required to submit annual comprehensive plans to Congress showing how they plan to expand opportunities for people who are already here, especially women, Americans from underserved communities, and returning military veterans.”

Statements from prominent Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish faith leaders are :

“I applaud the President’s leadership in addressing the broken immigration system. For too long our communities have lived in fear as immigrant families have been torn apart through unnecessary harsh enforcement policies. The immigration problems we face as a nation are complex and difficult. President Obama’s clear commitment to provide leadership and full engagement in the legislative process toward immigration reform will be critical. United Methodists have long been active in working with other faith leaders from across the country in mobilizing thousands of people through hundreds of public witness actions and meetings with members of Congress and their staffs. Comprehensive immigration reform is a major concern for us. We will continue to advocate for reform that will provide a pathway to full citizenship for undocumented immigrants and reunify families who have been separated. I look forward to working closely with President Obama and Congress to enact effective, just and compassionate reform.”

 Minerva Garza Carcaño, Bishop,Los Angeles Conference, UnitedMethodistChurch

“We find it hopeful that common sense immigration reform is finally getting the attention it has deserved for some time. We have to find a workable system for those wishing to come into our country, and a pathway to citizenship for the millions of hardworking immigrants who contribute so much to our country. They have earned their chance to be a part of our democracy.”

– Sr. SimoneCampbell, Executive Director, NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby

“A bipartisan group of Senators has spoken, no legislation can be called immigration reform without a roadmap to citizenship. Creating a just and compassionate immigration system that meets the needs of the 21st century won’t happen overnight and it won’t be easy. For years the faith community has been calling for change, and we will be watching every step of the way to ensure that families are protected and the dignity of every one of God’s children is respected. We expect and demand nothing less.  For us, this isn’t just a matter of politics; but one of faith and obedience to Jesus’ call in Matthew 25 for his followers to ‘welcome the stranger.’”

– Rev. Jim Wallis, President and CEO, Sojourners

“While we await actual legislative language, HIAS is grateful for the Senators’ leadership and for their agreement on key issues: There must be a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants currently in the U.S. – including undocumented students who would be covered by the DREAM Act – and shorter wait times for family members seeking to be reunited with their loved ones in the U.S. Comprehensive immigration reform is an opportunity to fix a broken system that adversely affects immigrants in the U.S., including refugees and asylum seekers. Immigration laws enacted in 1996 intended to crack down on undocumented migration also included all kinds of artificial, technical barriers that deny asylum to persecuted people who have already fled to theUnited States. Now is the time to fix the laws that have underminedAmerica’s leadership in providing safe haven to the persecuted.”

-Mark Hetfield, President and CEO (Interim), Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS)

” As an organization that serves refugees and all immigrants, CWS affirms that legislation based on this framework could have far-reaching positive impacts on the lives of those who, but for mere papers, are Americans in heart and contribution. Our immigrant brothers and sisters are an intrinsic part of our communities. We worship together, work together, build community together, our children learn together, and we pledge allegiance to the same flag together. We have a Biblical call to welcome the stranger and love our neighbor, and immigration reform will help us as a nation fulfill that call.”

-John McCullough, President and CEO, Church World Service

“Immigrants come to work, and yet when they are kept in the shadows without a path to citizenship, they are easily exploited and undermine standards for all workers.  Thus, it is  morally and economically right to create a clear and quick path to citizenship for immigrants.  We should “welcome the immigrant” now.”

-Kim Bobo, Executive Director, Interfaith Worker Justice

“Now is the time for our country to hear the eternal calls of our religious traditions and of human conscience to ensure the dignity of all humans in our midst by providing a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants currently in theU.S.We are long overdue but sure to prevail since our commitment is steadfast.”

-Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz, Founder and President, Uri L’Tzedek, Orthodox Social Justice

“The Southwest Conference of the United Church of Christ continues its radical commitment to solidarity with our immigrant brothers and sisters. Our faith teaches us that all are created equal in the image of God regardless of race, nationality or immigration status. We applaud the bi-partisan Senate’s efforts to create a comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship. We are enthused to see President Obama showing leadership on this critical issue. However, consistent with our prophetic voice and faith values, we side with the oppressed in their struggle. We are not content with citizenship being ‘contingent’ on more security provisions. InArizona, we have seen the tragic deaths of hopeful migrants in our desert lands due to constant heightened border enforcement. We will continue to press forward to create a pathway to citizenship for those who cross with high hopes and noble aspirations, but will advocate against increased border enforcement.”

-Rev. John Dorhauer, Conference Minister, Southwest Conference, UnitedChurchofChrist

“The time for immigration reform is now. Separated families cannot wait. Men, women, and children who are undocumented cannot be pushed aside. The President has outlined a clear proposal for immigration reform. While many of the details are unknown, we support him and his colleagues in the Senate, in their efforts. We pray that legislation will reflect the principles of family unity and full citizenship, as opposed to the punitive, border-enforcement provisions that still remain in the President’s comments and the Senate’s framework.”

-Rev. Patricia de Jong, Church World Service Board Member, Senior Pastor First Congregational of Berkeley, United Church of Christ

“As one of many rabbis across the country committed to Ahavat Ger, (Loving the stranger), we commend the President and Senate leaders for their early-term commitment to grapple with our broken immigration system and policy. Courageous bipartisan steps affirming the humanity of millions of immigrants will show that theUnited Statesis the beacon of justice reflected by Emma Lazaruss words on the Statue of Liberty.”

-Rabbi Jonathan Klein, Executive Director, Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice- Los Angeles, CA

“The president’s speech today represents a good starting place for Democrats and Republicans to come together to create a reformed immigration system that better serves families and the common good. LIRS and our broad national network of social ministry organizations, congregations, and church leaders are committed to working with Congress and the President to ensure that immigration reform will be just and protect vulnerable migrants.”

-Rev. J. Bart Day, Executive Director of NationalMission, Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod

“In the spring of 2010, we gathered on the Mall inWashingtonpressing for comprehensive immigration reform.  In the ensuing 3 years, many more people have been negatively impacted by the failure to address this serious moral issue.  Moving forward with this comprehensive plan, while not perfect and while still not adequately  addressing those who exploit migrant workers, is still  a significant step in the right direction.  As a people, we are reminded 36 times in Torah that how we treat the stranger and the one most on the margin will demonstrate our fidelity to a founding vision of our people. I am hopeful that this step forward will bring our society closer to that ideal.”

-Rabbi Morris J. Allen, Beth Jacob Congregation,Mendota Heights,MN

“By producing an initiative that accepts the premise of a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, the eight Senators recognize immigration as a key factor in bolstering America’s economic strength and democratic pluralism. The proposed reforms to the family and employment visa categories are also encouraging. Allowing immigrant families to more easily reunite with their loved ones promotes a strong social fabric in our communities. In addition, making it easier for high and low-skilled immigrant workers to come to this country will help to ensure that American businesses have the labor they need to compete in a global economy.”
-Rabbi Noam Marans, Director of Interreligious and Intergroup Relations, American Jewish Committee

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka:

President Barack Obama was elected this fall with several mandates, but voters spoke with particular clarity on one issue: the need to support the aspiration of 11 million immigrants to become citizens. That’s why we applaud President Obama’s eloquent and thoughtful embrace of immigration reform, including a viable path to citizenship for those who are American in every way except on paper.

In a phrase, President Obama “gets it” – he gets that a rising tide lifts all boats and that empowering immigrant workers is a win for all working people. The President clearly shares the AFL-CIO’s commitment to a viable pathway to citizenship, meaning that seemingly innocuous conditions cannot be allowed to get in the way of a roadmap for citizenship that encompasses the dreams of 11 million people.

President Obama’s leadership, and the bipartisan Senate group which announced its reform principles yesterday, makes us hopeful that 2013 will be the year in which theUnited Statesfinally builds a working immigration system.

But hope is not a plan. That’s whyAmerica’s unions are undertaking a national campaign to ensure that Congress passes a genuinely comprehensive plan in 2013.

We look forward to the fight ahead. Our top priority – citizenship – is clear. Our opponents are just as readily identified: those who deride the fundamental equality of our fellow working women and men. With those clear values to guide us, we stand with President Obama and leaders of goodwill across the political spectrum to do right by the 11 million and make our country stronger

Benjamin Johnson, Executive Director of the American Immigration Council:

“The American Immigration Council congratulates Senators Schumer, McCain, Durbin, Graham, Menendez, Rubio, Bennett and Flake for reaching across the aisle and beginning an honest, bipartisan effort to confront the many difficult issues that must be resolved for immigration reform to become a reality. With the addition of a renewed commitment from President Obama, and the strengthened voices of those whose lives and livelihood have been damaged by the failure to act, the environment is better than it has been in many years for restoring fairness and integrity to our broken immigration system.”


Angelica Salas, executive director for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA):

“We welcome the President’s impassioned statements that America is ready to overhaul an immigration system that lives up to our heritage as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants.  We applaud the President’s inclusion of gays and lesbians as members of the family unit and we agree with him that a path to citizenship should not become an insurmountable, extended ordeal.

We are saddened to hear the President still believes ‘smart enforcement’ is a priority.  For the past decade, the United States has practiced only one single immigration policy:  enforcement-heavy.  In addition to the 1,580,359 immigrants deported during the past four years, many more families will be torn apart and never reunite is the mistaken notion of “back of the line” continues to permeate our idea of fair and tough immigration laws. Immigration reform can move forward without any out of step triggers that threaten to separate more families and delay a path to citizenship indefinitely.

Now that the Senate and the White House have shared roadmaps we can work with, it is time to get to the tough work of drafting legislation that best matches and serves our nation’s values and needs.  We expect disagreements in Capitol Hill, but we will not tolerate partisan games.  The American people expect their elected leaders to sit together and enact real and lasting solutions to the nation’s pressing issues.

Immigration reform is about opening opportunities for aspiring Americans to ‘write the next great chapter’ in our history.  The huddled masses of yore are the aspiring citizens of today.  The families that yearn to raise a family, build a house, send their kids to school, attend church, and pledge allegiance to this nation’s principles are the families that want to make sure ‘this century is like the last one:  an American century” we can all be proud of.


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