WASHINGTON: With both the president and senators from both sides of the aisle proposing immigration reform measures, advocates for undocumented immigrants are working to put a face on the issue.
On Tuesday, President Barack Obama gave a speech in which he claimed immigration reform is the “No. 1 priority” for his second term in office and urged the creation of a fair pathway to legal status. A day earlier, the “gang of eight” senators introduced a separate plan for overhauling the US immigration system.
Research shows there are an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the US.
Immigration advocates say this issue is receiving attention because Hispanic-Americans made their voices heard during the November presidential and congressional elections.
“The Latino community went to the voting booths with the economy on their minds, but immigration in their hearts,” said Julian Teixeira, director of communications at the National Council of La Raza, an Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization.
After influential lawmakers showed they would take action, immigration advocates are working hard to humanize the issue by supplying undocumented immigrants to share their stories.
“In order to win this debate, we need to bring many people out of the shadows who will tell their stories,” said Jeff Parcher, communications director at the Center for Community Change, a part of the Fair Immigration Reform Movement. The organization is a national coalition of grassroots organizations fighting for immigrant rights at the local, state, and federal levels.
“Thousands of families are being separated by deportation or are living in fear of the possibility,” Parcher added.
This week, Center for Change and other FIRM organizations collected stories via various channels and created pitches for media outlets. Some subjects have been picked up in stories featured on CBS News and in The New York Times.
It's a strategy that these groups and allies can more easily rely on thanks to the Dream Act executive order signed by Obama last year that said his administration would stop deporting young illegal aliens who match certain criteria.
That legal protection has made some feel more comfortable sharing their stories, as well as those of their families, said Parcher.
Center for Change also plans to launch a bus tour next month so that it can go into communities around the country to collect sorties that it will share through social media and the website KeepFamiliesTogether.org
On Thursday, the American Immigration Council promoted a call to educate both Capitol Hill staffers and the press about immigration reform using the question, “Who are these [11 million] undocumented immigrants?” More than 100 people were expected to call in.
In general, the council spent the week “lifting up the fact that there is a bipartisan effort for immigration reform policy and the public wants solutions,” said communications director Wendy Feliz-Sefsaf.
The need for the Latino community, documented and undocumented, to take action is also being emphasized. The National Council of La Raza has been sending text messages to its stakeholders encouraging them to reach out to policymakers to support immigration reform. There are also advocacy days planned in coming weeks in Washington, DC, Texas, and California.