Springfield groups push for immigration reform

On April 4 and 5, two Springfield organizations took to the streets and the Springfield offices of members of Congress to generate support for federal immigration reform.

More than 11 million people may be living in this country without immigration documents. Families are separated, people are deported and the government invests millions of dollars into patrolling borders and trying to regulate immigration. Faith Coalition for the Common Good and the Springfield chapter of Organizing for Action gathered to show their support for immigration reform.

Faith Coalition, a group representing Latino and African immigrants living in Beardstown and Rushville, held a prayer vigil on April 4 outside of U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock’s office. The group wanted Schock’s support for what they consider a compassionate plan for immigration reform. Their plan includes providing an expedited path to citizenship, halting deportation and workplace raids, the reunification of families, protecting civil, labor and human rights and providing access to social services.

Sister Mary Jean Traeger, pastoral facilitator of St. Katharine Drexel Parish of Springfield, encounters many families impacted by immigration laws. Although the parish does not require anyone to give their citizenship status, she said when there are raids conducted in the area she finds out that many people don’t have citizenship.

She said the current immigration system often leaves lasting effects as many families are separated. She said these families are vulnerable and easily taken advantage of as they try to live under the radar while making a better life.

“Who are we to say we should send innocent people back to their country? They’re here in this country making just as much of an impact as we all are,” Traeger said.

For the Gomez family of Beardstown, separation and the difficulties of making an honest living have become a harsh reality. Jesus Gomez, 38, of Beardstown came to the
U. S. from Jalisco, Mexico, more than 10 years ago and is raising four children. For Gomez, finding work to provide for his family has been his biggest difficulty.

His son, also Jesus Gomez, 13, has watched his parents try to provide for them, and says he feels for the 11 million other citizens who are suffering.

“My parents came here more than 10 years ago and have not been able to see their parents back in Mexico,” he said. “I want to see them be able to go back and see their family and not have to worry about what will happen.”

Pastor T. Ray McJunkins of Springfield, president of Faith Coalition for the Common Good, said the goal is to get U. S. Rep. Schock and U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis to address immigration. He said ignoring problems with the immigration system won’t solve anything because they will only get worse. He added that because these people are not citizens doesn’t mean their problems don’t need to be addressed.

The goal of the Springfield chapter of Organizing for Action was to meet with U. S. Sen. Mark Kirk on April 5, as part of bipartisan efforts to discuss immigration reform. OFA is a nonprofit organization established to support President Obama’s agenda. The group said they want to find out the senator’s position on border patrol and employment of undocumented workers.

“The current immigration system is broken. There are too many employers who are gaming the system with undocumented workers,” said Scott Cross, digital and press policy lead for the OFA Springfield. “You have 11 million people living in the shadows in this country. When they are in that limbo it puts a strain on the economy and a strain on the country. It’s just a matter that the time has come to address this in a bipartisan way.”

Yvonne Singley, deputy director for OFA Springfield, said most people who are undocumented want to be able to live comfortably in this country. She said they want to pay taxes, contribute to the making of laws and have a role as a citizen, but instead they live quietly in fear of deportation.

For Cross the idea of immigration reform and the fear immigrants are living in vastly affects every American. He said everyone has encountered someone who is new to this country looking for a different life.

“If they don’t think this affects them, these are their friends and neighbors, these are people helping out in the back rooms of stores and working in the backs of restaurants,” he said.  

Contact Jacqueline Muhammad at intern@illinoistimes.com.

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