by Joseph Montano, Immigrants’ Rights Coordinator
They watched their city of Cochabamba, Bolivia, their family, and their close friends fade away in the rear view mirror of their car; they could only hope that perhaps one day they would be reunited. They boarded a bus bound to Mexico, from which the most difficult part of the journey would take place. Having packed lightly, given the arduous trek between the Mexican-US borders, they took with them only what they could carry.
After an exhausting and dangerous journey that started in Bolivia, and with less than $20 to their name, they finally arrived in the Northern Virginia area. Although they lacked an understanding of the local culture and the language of their new home, they shared a true American sentiment: the aspiration to achieve the American Dream.
This is the story of my parents, two of the faces behind the 11 million undocumented individuals currently residing in the United States. Too often we see the 11 million people affected by the broken immigration system as a numerical figure and forget the faces behind the number. At the ACLU of Virginia, we understand who the people are that are most affected by the broken federal immigration system and how important immigration reform is, not only to those currently residing as undocumented individuals within our border, but also to their families.
Immigration is inextricably linked to the success of this nation and is embedded in the fabric of the American culture. It’s a testament to our tradition of acceptance of different people and cultures from all over the world. That’s why we must continue voicing the message engraved on the base of the Statue of Liberty – “…give us your tired, your poor and your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
These 11 million people have remained in the shadows for far too long. They have endured numerous acts of discrimination and injustice. The federal immigration system has facilitated the exploitation of migrant workers, exacerbated the discriminatory practices of law enforcement agencies, and prevented those in need from seeking help or witnesses to crime from coming forward. Until our federal government passes comprehensive immigration reform, these violations of individual civil rights and liberties will continue. The time for comprehensive immigration reform is now!
Every one of Virginia’s members of Congress, especially our House members, must feel the urgency of passing immigration reform now if change is to happen. And, two of Virginia’s Congressional delegation are in key positions to make a difference on immigration reform. Congressman Bob Goodlatte from Virginia’s 6th Congressional District chairs the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives that stands in the way of any comprehensive reform bill. Congressman Eric Cantor from Virginia’s 7th Congressional District is the Majority Leader in the House.
The United States Senate has already voted for reform. We must stand united and push the House of Representatives into making immigration reform a priority. We can no longer afford to let Congress delay the passage of comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship. It’s time to put an end to ineffective policies and fix the broken federal immigration system. We have to remind Congress that 11 million is not just a number.
As the Majority Leader, Congressman Cantor is in the best position of any of Virginia’s congressional delegation to persuade the Speaker of the House to bring immigration reform to the floor for a vote without further delay. Tell Congressman Cantor that it’s time for him to put the “lead” in Majority Leader. It’s time for immigration reform now! Take action now.