Chavez-Portugal: Don't neglect immigration reform

People rally before a press conference about the

People rally before a press conference about the immigration bill in Wyandanch. April 18, 2013) Photo Credit: Ed Betz

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With the federal government embroiled in shutdown politics, some people are saying immigration reform is a long shot for 2013. But immigrants on Long Island like me simply won't accept that pessimism. Saturday we will be marching in Brentwood -- like others will in 130 or so demonstrations around the country -- to call for comprehensive immigration reform this year. And we will not be deterred by a government shutdown, because our representatives need to hear that they must get back to work and do what's right for immigrant families as soon as possible.

I've lived in Suffolk County with my husband and two children for 10 years. We came from Peru on a tourist visa and stayed to make a better life. We've worked hard to support our family, including working nights cleaning the local library. My son married an American and has become a legal resident, but my husband, daughter and I would qualify for the path to citizenship that is included in the comprehensive immigration reform bill that passed in the Senate in late June.

Throughout these years, we've always had to worry about keeping our family together, given the specter of deportation. A path to citizenship offers the best chance for making sure we can be together and thrive on Long Island. But to become reality and ensure that my family can stay together, we need the House of Representatives to pass a similar bill.

My family and my immigrant community work hard every day to contribute to Long Island with our love, our culture, our hard work and our taxes. We are willing to take the steps laid out in an earned path to citizenship, but we need the House to give us this chance. Now, we are saying, "Enough stalling already!"

Immigrant Long Islanders like me have worked very hard with our allies for comprehensive immigration reform. Thousands of Long Islanders have joined marches, rallies and forums supporting reform. Thousands more have called and written to their congressional representatives, all of whom have now publicly supported a comprehensive bill including a path to citizenship.

This reflects what a poll conducted by Harstad Research this spring told us: As is true throughout the country, the vast majority -- eight in 10 registered voters surveyed on Long Island -- support an earned path to citizenship alongside border enforcement measures and clearing the visa backlog.

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But in September, reform efforts in Congress stalled, and now they seem forgotten in the current partisan fighting. The Republican House leadership doesn't want to bring the bill to a vote, even though the votes appear to be there, with virtually all Democrats and at least 26 Republicans, including Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), expressing their support.

The will of the loud tea party minority -- the same group behind this week's shutdown -- is putting at stake the lives of 11 million people, including mine and my family's.

That's why immigrants around Long Island and across the country are joining together to urge the House to act this month. Our coalition has declared Saturday to be a National Day for Dignity and Respect for immigrants.

We are tired of false promises. We know that most Latinos and immigrants who voted last year -- and whose votes decided the presidential election -- are demanding this reform, like the 11 million of us who are here without the proper documentation.

My family and I will be marching tomorrow. We know that passing comprehensive reform this year will be difficult, but we will keep on fighting and calling for action.

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Isela Chávez-Portugal is a member of Make the Road New York, the state's largest participatory immigrant rights organization.

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