By MARY ANN HOLLEY
St. Charles – Grace Aviles stood on the steps of the St. Charles County Courthouse with her four children and a crowd of people of many colors and nationalities. She told of how her mother and her friend brought her and her brother across the Mexican border into the United States “for a better life.”
She was 9 years old, she recalled. “I didn’t speak English and I didn’t go to school for a year until I got used to things.”
On Aug. 22, she and her children joined an immigration rally with about 300 union and religious leaders and residents, including Pablo Tapia who stood on the highest of the Courthouse steps speaking in the hot sun with his two children standing at his side. People surrounded him holding signs—some in Spanish—saying things like “Citizenship now” and “Don’t separate my family.”
Tapia, and about 40 activists arrived in St. Charles by bus as part of their 11-city, four-day tour through the Midwest “battleground states” in hopes of prodding key members of Congress to adopt comprehensive immigration reform.
The tour, part of the Minnesota-based Asamblea de Derechos Civiles, the Assembly for Civil Rights (ADDC), is trying to gain the attention of politicians who sit on the House Judiciary Committee.
The tour also made stops at cities in Ohio, Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana.
“This country depends on our labor, but denies our rights,” said Tapia. “We are the new dispossessed labor force, and this is the next stage in the civil rights movement.”
A NEW IMMIGRATION POLICY
Tapia is pushing for “a new immigration policy” that would include “legalized status and a ‘road to citizenship’ for all immigrant workers in this country; the right of workers to reunite their families; and protection of immigrants’ workplace rights,” in particular, the elimination of government Green Card raids.
“The fight for the rights of immigrants is a fight for all working and oppressed people,” said Tapia.
Aviles, of St. Charles, said she still has family in Mexico that can’t come live with her, in particular, her sister and brother.
“We came illegally. It was really scary,” Aviles recalls. “I think the government should stop deportation and let families have a better future.”
Aviles falls under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), a temporary resident status implemented by the Secretary of the Department Homeland Security in June 2012.
A PATHWAY TO CITIZENSHIP
According to the federation for American immigration reform, there are an estimated 35,000 to 65,000 immigrants who entered the country illegally living in Missouri, however, one of every six of those immigrants is a child who does not work.
“We celebrated the one-year anniversary of the executive order, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals,” said Tapia told the crowd. “DACA is not a permanent and stable solution. The House must act NOW to provide a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented folks living in this country.”
THEY ARE PEOPLE
Earline Jones, a member of the Alliance for Retired Americans said now is the time for immigration reform.
“They work, pay into taxes and Medicare, but they get no benefits from their payments,” Jones said. “The biggest tragedy is with Social Security. They pay into it, but they can’t claim it.”
Bob Huss, a board member of the Alliance for Retired Americans said “education advocacy” is part of the group’s mission.
“We need immigration reform. We can’t say, ‘we want you to pick our strawberries, but you can’t do anything about the pesticides that affect your health in the fields,’” Huss said. “We call them illegals and aliens, but they are people; they’re boys and girls. Most Americans just don’t care what happens to them.”
LIVING IN FEAR
Tapia said people without legitimate identification live in fear. Even if they are victims of crime, they’re afraid to call police.
As the rally wrapped up, Tapia led the group marching through St. Charles’ Main Street holding up a large wooden cross to signify what he said was “the divine nature of his mission.”
“We′re not coming here to steal anything,” he said. “We′re coming to contribute. If I don′t do anything about this situation, my kids will pay later.”