WASHINGTON (AP) — Latino lawmakers and advocates are taking a new approach to the push for changes in U.S. immigration policy, making a humanitarian appeal to Americans to support fellow citizens who have relatives living in fear of detention and deportation.
First up: community meetings at churches in 17 cities, with the first set for Friday in Providence, R.I.
"We are going to focus on families and put this in a biblical, moral perspective," said Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., who created the model for the campaign with meetings in Chicago and New York.
Rep. Nydia Velazquez of New York, chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said Tuesday that the National Family Unity Campaign is a "first step on putting a human face on how the broken immigration system is impacting the men and women of America."
Before the presidential election campaign, the debate over immigration focused more on enforcement — building barriers on the U.S.-Mexico border, conducting raids and expanding detention — than proposals to create a path for citizenship for the estimated 12 million immigrants in the nation illegally.
The stepped-up enforcement has led to stories like that of Diego Lino, a U.S. citizen, and his wife, Francisca Lino, who entered the country illegally. Their four children, including twin daughters who suffer medical problems, are U.S. citizens.
Francisca Lino was arrested when she went to an immigration interview for legal residency, available through a Clinton administration program for illegal immigrants married to U.S. citizens. She is scheduled to be deported to Mexico on March 15, according to Gutierrez's office.
Gutierrez and other lawmakers hope the public will realize that the immigration policies of recent years have not just affected immigrants but American citizens as well. Many U.S. families include people of mixed status, where only one parent is a citizen or has legal residency, or the children are citizens and parents are in the country illegally.
They hope to draw in other minority lawmakers by pointing out that the family separations are happening to immigrants, documented and undocumented, and their U.S. citizen families, who may be black, Asian, Irish or of other national origins.
"When we finish this 17-city tour, you will hear testimonies from across this nation from American citizens. Our goal is to raise the banner of comprehensive immigration reform," Gutierrez said.
Rep. Brian Bilbray, R-Calif., offered his own tragic stories to parry the pro-immigration arguments.
"I have rescued illegals when they were drowning and rescued the bodies on the highways," he said. "When they go to the churches, why don't they go see what's happening on the border and then go to Latin America and see what's happening to the towns there? No one is talking about the way illegal immigration is breaking families apart to start with."
Bilbray said the Congressional Hispanic Caucus is addressing a symptom of immigration policies when it should be ensuring employers are not hiring illegal workers.
On the Net:
Congressional Hispanic Caucus: http://velazquez.house.gov/chc/
Immigration Reform Caucus: http://www.house.gov/bilbray/irc/
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.