From HighlandsToday.com, Pamela Glinski, 4 Oct 2011.
SEBRING, FL – Immigration reform is a topic that has made headlines with stories of racial profiling, families torn apart by deportations, human smuggling, controversial court decisions and people dying trying to cross borders in hopes of a better life.
“What can we do?” Santos Guadalupe de la Rosa one day asked local Democratic Party Chairman Umberto Ramirez.
De la Rosa is a farmworker technical assistance provider for the Florida Non-Profit Housing Authority and was appointed by three governors to affordable housing study commissions.
Ramirez responded they had tried everything else to bring attention to problems facing the Hispanic community.
“All that is left is to march on our knees all the way to Washington,” he said.
Now, the “Knee-A-Thon: Thank You Pilgrimage,” an event listed on Facebook, is held every Saturday and Sunday from 7 to 10 a.m. Community members, one by one, take turns marching on their knees in hopes that people “will slow down and listen.”
De la Rosa feels immigration amnesty didn’t work in the 1980s, and that because of the complexity of current laws there is a lack of viable solutions right now.
“Families are being traumatized … children are being left without parents. … Things need to change,” he said.
De la Rosa feels the first step is to pass comprehensive immigration reform that would avoid the mountains of red tape in current laws; there needs to be common-sense solutions.
Ramirez added: “We are not demanding anything. We are begging, on our knees, for help.”
He hopes this idea will spread to other communities until it becomes a nationwide event.
* * * * *
In the past few weeks, the march has grown from only a few people to dozens. Supporters say this “pilgrimage” has become not only a way to bring attention to the needs of Hispanics, but also a way to thank the U.S. military for fighting for human rights and freedom all over the world.
The problems facing Hispanics range from housing to racial profiling, the group said. The fear of deportation and families being separated hangs heavily over the lives of many longtime, law-abiding Hispanic-Americans, the group added.
Ramirez talked about the need to create a way to allow “good people” who have been here for years to legalize themselves.
“We need to worry about the people that are already here … they have their homes here, their children here, their lives. … This is their country,” he said.
This year, in part because of a backlog of deportation cases, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement issued new guidelines to ease the workload.
Because ICE, a division of the Department of Homeland Security, has funds and manpower to process about 400,000 deportees yearly, it is prioritizing who of the millions living here illegally should be send back to their home countries.
In a March 2 memo, ICE Director John Morton stated the priority was apprehending “aliens who pose a danger to national security or a risk to public safety.”
Then a memo Morton issued June 17 gave “prosecutorial discretion” to local authorities to consider on a case-by-case basis immigrants who have been picked up or are in the deportation process, taking several factors into consideration.
They can now apply with authorities in local jurisdictions for a settlement, a deferral, a dismissal or a stay of a final deportation order if they are: law-abiding and have been in the country for a long time; nursing mothers; living with a family member or a spouse who is a U.S. citizen; people with strong ties who contribute to the community; suffering from certain illnesses; victims of certain crimes or a witness to a crime; or people who have a clear immigration history with no prior removal orders.
* * * * *
These moves have drawn comments from sides both for and against legalizing illegal aliens.
Tampa immigration attorney Neil F. Lewis said: “As with all new ideas and laws, the process to seek review remains unclear. The administration said they would review 300,000 extant cases to determine priorities.”
By instituting a priority list, ICE is also making it more difficult for criminal illegal aliens or those deported previously who stayed in the U.S. to remain here without detection, Lewis added.
“I know from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices that I deal with that the change in priorities was welcome news for a group that saw their job as law enforcement, but who were being asked to go harass non-criminals every week,” he said.
Others see the lessening restrictions on illegal aliens as a backdoor to amnesty.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, said: “One of the most outrageous proposals is to use DHS’ (Department of Homeland Security’s) limited authority to grant deferred action on a broad basis. This would allow certain individuals for whom ‘no relief appears available’ to remain in the U.S. indefinitely and receive work authorization.
“This would also give amnesty to millions of illegal workers.”
* * * * *
In an Aug. 20 article in The Blaze, Smith talked about President Barack Obama’s executive order that followed up on these new guidelines, calling it “more than just a back-door passage of the Dream Act, but actually something that undermines both the legislative and the judicial branches of our government.”
The Dream Act seeks to provide conditional permanent residency to certain illegal alien-students of good moral character who graduate from U.S. high schools, arrived in the U.S. as minors and lived in the country continuously for at least five years prior to the bill’s enactment.
According to the 2010 U.S. Census statistics and the Pew Hispanic Research Center, Hispanics make up 16.3 percent of the U.S. population. With 1.8 million Hispanic voters in Florida, immigration reform will continue to be a major topic in upcoming elections.
“This is a dream,” stated Ramirez. “Martin Luther King had a dream that everyone would get treated equally. … We have the same dream.”
Knee-A-Thon sponsors are looking for help to start a website and to add content to their facebook.com page. For details, call de la Rosa at (863) 655-1191.