On the bus for immigration reform

By Kelly Black, Observer correspondent March 08, 2013 03:46 pm

March for One Oregon bus tour participants express their views Thursday in La Grande where a rally was staged outside of Congressman Greg Walden’s field office. March for One Oregon is asking Walden to take a lead role in supporting immigration reform. CHRIS BAXTER/The Observer
March for One Oregon bus tour participants express their views Thursday in La Grande where a rally was staged outside of Congressman Greg Walden’s field office. March for One Oregon is asking Walden to take a lead role in supporting immigration reform. CHRIS BAXTER/The Observer

by KELLY BLACK / The Observer 

Regional bus tour stops in La Grande on its quest to have all immigrants treated fairly 

Betsy Lamb woke Wednesday morning to see TV footage of flames shooting through the roof of Trinity Episcopal Church in Bend. On Tuesday, Lamb had been at the church attending a kickoff rally for a bus tour that is taking 50 Oregonians through Congressman Greg Walden’s congressional district to advocate for a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

After watching footage of the flames engulf the church, Lamb made a last-minute decision to join the tour.

“It just made me sick,” said Lamb. 

According to the Associated Press, the fire started about 2 a.m. and police said rocks had been thrown through the windows of the church. The cause has yet to be determined.

“We are asking Congressman Walden to press for a full investigation,” said Lamb.

 The March 5-9 March for One Oregon bus tour hopes to bring the conversation about immigration reform to rural communities as well as deliver letters to Congressman Walden’s area offices asking him to take a lead role in supporting immigration reform. 

The bus rolled into La Grande Thursday, and Oregon Rural Action hosted a rally at the congressman’s door. 

“We are asking him for a path to citizenship for all 11 million undocumented immigrants,” said Francisco Lopez, executive director of Causa, an Oregon Immigration Rights organization, via megaphone to an enthusiastic crowd. 

“We don’t want a Band-Aid,” said Lopez. “We want a permanent solution.”

According to Lopez, out of 450,000 Latinos in Oregon 150,000 are undocumented immigrants. He estimates that Oregon has 170,000 farm workers, many of whom are in Congressman Walden’s district.

Hugo Nicolas was an undocumented immigrant. He arrived in the United States when he was 11 years old and did not know any English. At first he struggled in school.

“Then I realized this country was built because of hard working people,” said Nicolas. “So I started to get involved in my community.”

Nicolas’ high school resume would impress most scholarship committees: police cadet, fire explorer, JROTC company commander, chamber of commerce youth leader, city youth counselor, straights A’s and honors classes. 

But as an undocumented immigrant, Nicolas could not get a driver’s license, a scholarship or a job.

On June 15, 2012, President Obama enacted The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which allows young people who came to the United States as children to apply for a two-year work permit that is renewable. According to the Homeland Security website, to qualify applicants must be in school, have graduated from high school or obtained a GED, or have been honorable discharged from the armed forces or Coast Guard.

Hugo Nicolas of Salem, who came to the  U.S. when he was 11 years old, is traveling  with the March for One Oregon bus tour. As an undocumented immigrant, Nicolas could not get a driver’s license, a scholarship or a job. Under the  Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, he was able to obtain a two-year renewable work permit. He is currently studying economics and Chinese at a community college and working two jobs. CHRIS BAXTER/The Observer 

“When I first heard about Deferred Action, I was very happy that finally I would be able to work and really contribute back to the economy,” said Nicolas.

Armed with a two-year renewable work permit, Nicolas is studying economics and Chinese at a community college and working two jobs.

Oregon Rural Action Director Karen Wagner sees immigration reform as a community issue. Wagner said that to be sustainable we need to grow the productivity of our communities by allowing everyone to contribute.

“Everybody has creativity and productivity and value and a voice,” said Wagner.

Amanda Aguilar Shank, who works for Rural Organizing Project, emphasized that Latino youth need stability in their lives if they are going to be able to contribute to their communities. 

“Literally millions of children and young people have one or more parents who are undocumented,” said Shank. Some of these youth are U.S. citizens.

These families are at risk of being torn apart if a parent is deported. Young people who experience deportation of a parent are often forced away from college or other educational opportunities in order to take over the care of younger siblings.

“Their lives are paralyzed,” said Shank.

For Amy Truax, the Northwest Field Organizer for Witness for Peace, the big question is: Why are people migrating? 

Truax, believes that U.S. trade policy and subsidies are damaging local and regional agricultural economies in places like Mexico. When it is cheaper to buy corn imported from the U.S., which is subsidized, than from the local Mexican farmer, the economy of the region suffers and people have to migrate. 

“Our federal immigration system is broken,” said Walden in a statement issued by his press secretary. “I look forward to continuing a dialogue on this complicated issue.”