About 150 people marched on Rep. Frank Wolf’s (R-Dist. 10) office in Herndon Wednesday, blaring cadences from bullhorns, waving signs, and demanding that he take a stand--preferably in their favor--on immigration reform.
The Virginia Coalition for Immigrant Rights, made up of the Arlington-based Virginia New Majority, the ACLU of Virginia, the Centreville Immigrant Forum, the Coalition of Asia Pacific Americans of Virginia, the American Citizens Council 4609, Tenants and Workers United, the National Korean American Service & Education Consortium, and other immigrant rights groups, organized the march.
“Herndon is home to a large immigrant community and is a part of Congressman Frank Wolf’s district,” said Virginia New Majority Organizing Director Rishi Awatramani. “Our goal is to persuade Rep. Wolf to vote for legislation that will create a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and allow them to keep their families intact.”
The coalition’s main complaint is that as currently proposed, the White House immigration bill outlines a path to citizenship for immigrants that could take as long as 13 years.
Under the bill’s provisions, undocumented immigrants would have to apply for “lawful prospective immigrant status,” then wait eight years from when the bill is passed, or until the current backlog for legal immigrants is thinned out, whichever comes first. Then, once started, the process could take an additional five years to finalize. “That is much too long,” said undocumented immigrant Raul Anaya, 21, of Reston, who says his undocumented status is preventing him from attending medical school, a lifelong dream of his.
Anaya, from El Salvador, said his parents overstayed a tourist visa in 2001--when he was nine years old--and hoped to have their family become naturalized citizens. According to Anaya, the family was approved under Section 245(i) of U.S. immigration law, which allows undocumented immigrants who normally would be ineligible to adjust their status to to apply for permanent residence under certain conditions. “But after 9/11, the entire process was frozen, and we remain undocumented,” he said. “I want to be called an American, educate myself and contribute to America. And there are thousands like me, who only want to create a productive future for themselves as Americans but are being held back.”
Omari Musa, 67, is a former railroad worker for the Union Pacific Railroad, who ran as a candidate for mayor of Washington DC in 2010 as a member of the Socialist Worker’s Party. As an African-American, Musa says he understands organized oppression. “Laws are made to be changed,” he said. “My people were once slaves, but times and laws change. I am here marching today to help effect that change onto this issue.”
Thought by many as primarily a Latino issue, many marchers said they want Wolf to know that immigration laws affect a great number of people from diverse backgrounds and varied ethnicities.
“My family fled Vietnam when my mom was pregnant with me. They had no choice but to leave their home country,” said Fairfax resident Tram Nguyen. “After the fall of Saigon, my dad spent several years in a forced labor camp for assisting the United States during the Vietnam War. He and several others escaped from the camp, reunited with their families and used a small boat to sail along the coast to Thailand where I was born in the Songkhla refugee camp.”
Nguyen said she doesn’t remember anything about the country of her birth due to leaving there at a young age. “When I was six months old, we were admitted to the United States as refugees. This is the only country that I have ever known. Today, I am a proud naturalized citizen. I am one of the lucky ones. There are millions of people who come here seeking a better life but are denied the chance to become citizens.”
Keisy Chavez, 41, of Centreville, says even the current legal immigration system is broken and keeps families apart. Chavez was born an American citizen but says her two brothers were born in Peru and want to come to the U.S. but have been awaiting their green cards for more than 10 years. “It is just crazy,” she said. “Families should not be kept apart for decades like that. Is there any wonder people try to get around a system like that?”
The Virginia New Majority says it is fighting to get the current White House immigration bill changed to be able to provide a better system that will not impact so many families negatively by making them wait 13 years to get on with their lives.
“Congressman Wolf’s district is wealthy, due in part to immigrant labor,” said Awatramani. “But he has given no concrete perspective on this bill. We hope to convince him that changes are needed to allow those who want to become American citizens to be able to do so in a reasonable amount of time.”
Wolf was not available to be at his office when the protestors arrived, due to a prior commitment.
“He is at a National Day of Prayer reception in Washington, otherwise he would have been here,” said Wolf’s Chief of Staff Dan Scandling. “Congressman Wolf is always willing to listen to his constituents on every issue and will be following the immigration bill closely as it moves through Congress.”