2016 Walk For Justice and Immigration Reform
The 2016 "Walk for Justice" on behalf of Comprehensive Immigration Reform on Saturday, July 9th, was marked by the terrific presence of what must have been 600 people (our own estimate), some speeches that really addressed the underlying issues, and moving, if not disturbing, testimonies of those directly affected by Congress' refusal to act on this problem.
We are proud that Margaret W. Wong and Associates was one of the sponsors of the event and that Ms. Wong, herself, was able to attend along with Mr. George Koussa, our good co-worker.
Everyone met at the Free Stamp at 10am. We introduced ourselves to Father Clyde Foster of St. John Vianney Church in Mentor who made a good observation as we discussed English as a second language. Father Clyde believed that the language that one is actually raised in is the "language of one's faith" or the language that comes most naturally to a person. He smiled and shook his head when he said that "whenever I get nervous or agitated my Spanish goes out the window!" This heightened our awareness as to what people who come to the United States from other cultures and countries are confronted with.
We talked to a man who was there with his family who wore a "Slovenia" t-shirt so we talked about the 25th anniversary of Slovenia's independence and the events that we recently attended on behalf of it.
The format of the "Walk for Justice" consisted of 5 stops where speeches, testimonies and prayers were said on behalf of a specific topic. Bishop Abraham Allende; Bishop, Northeastern Ohio Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; introduced the program at each stop along with other clergy like Father Rob Reidy of La Sagrada Familia Parish.
At the first stop at the Free Stamp, the emphasis was on "Compassionate Comprehensive Immigration Reform" wherein our good friend, Sister Rita Mary Harwood read a letter from Bishop Richard Lennon; Bishop, Cleveland Catholic Diocese; which set the tone for the entire exercise as it said in part, "Many of us are descendants of immigrants, our ancestors came from many different countries seeking safety, work, opportunity for their children-they came seeking life. The journey was not always easy. They made a home here, became a country founded on principles of deep respect, justice, freedom, life-life for all. We as a people struggle everyday to live out those principles. Others of us have come ourselves-we have come-immigrant refugee, migrant come for the same reason-to escape violence, to find work and to provide opportunity for their children, to live in dignity and freedom. And today we walk together to give witness to our belief that those same principles which guided the founding of our country, guide our decisions today-deep respect for each one, justice, freedom, pursuit of life! We walk to give voice to those who must remain silent, visibility to those who must remain hidden, and opportunity for those who came to create a life with us that enriches us all!"
Sister Rita, herself, said that we must focus our minds and our hearts on why we are here. We must walk peacefully showing respect for all people because we are people of dignity. Bishop Allende seconded this when he said later that we are walking for "fair and just treatment for all." Sister Rita went on to say that our hearts have been "devastated" over all that has occurred in the last week (i.e. the shootings in Dallas) but what better time for us to all come together?
The next speaker at Stop #1 was Mr. Cel Rivera, the Police Chief of Lorain who we have met before. Mr. Rivera said that he had been a police officer for 45 years and he was deeply concerned because now is a particularly hateful and troubling time in our history. For him, all of this talk about building a wall between the United States and Mexico was a sign of great fear. Plus, the notion of law enforcement having to raid private homes and factories in order to deport 11 million undocumented was quite scary. Mr. Rivera said that "compassionate, comprehensive immigration reform" was needed in order to create laws that can be respected and observed; prioritize law enforcement resources; to enhance community engagement; and because it was the right thing to do.
Mr. Rivera went on to ask us to put ourselves in the shoes of an undocumented worker as he motioned towards Lake Erie and said that if we needed to provide for our families and crossing the Lake to Canada was our best option wouldn't we act upon it?
Bishop Allende said that this wasn't about statistics, this was about human beings before he introduced an undocumented woman who told us how she had been living in the United States quietly for 19 years.Her status became known, however, when she tried to re-enter the United States after she journeyed to Mexico to attend the funeral of her mother. She now could very possibly be deported.
We then walk over to Stop #2 which was the Federal Building (virtually right across the street) where the topic was "Family Reunification." Mr. Andrew Bramante, an immigration attorney, said that in this building ICE does just the opposite than unite families. He told us about a client of his who was now facing deportation. This man had been living in the United States for 15 years, was devoted to his family and was very active in his church. Like the previous speaker, he returned to Mexico after his mother passed away and was apprehended by the authorities when he tried to return.
Mr. Bramante said that in order to be successful, immigration reform must keep families together, let people leave the U.S. to visit family member regardless of their immigration status, and allow deported parents to return to their families. As he concluded, he told us that the area where the client that he had talked about lived was very conservative politically but they still rallied behind his client and do not want him to be deported.
We then walked to Stop #3 which was Veteran's Memorial Plaza in Mall A. The issue this time was "Justice in the Workplace" so Ms. Debbie Kline; Director of Cleveland Jobs for Justice; spoke of how undocumented workers are among the workers most exploited by their employers. As an example, she spoke of the deplorable conditions at Case Farms that have been ably documented.
Then a person came forward and told all of us the story of a friend of his who immigrated to the United States from Guatemala and got a job in the poultry industry. He was never trained properly and ended up losing his leg in a terrible accident.
Next was Stop #4 which was in the new Public Square. Ms. Camille Gall; who works with Legal Services for Migration and Refugee Services with Catholic Charities; stepped forward to talk about "Civil Discourse." An immigration lawyer, herself, she spoke for all us when she said she was very angered by statements from certain political leaders that have greatly contributed to a climate of ugliness and intense fear when matters pertaining to immigration are discussed. Ms. Gall told us of a client of hers who called her recently because he was very upset and frightened because he was afraid he would be caught up in the "deport all of the undocumented" frenzy.
Ms. Gall challenged us to speak up and challenge people who are disparaging immigrants. She praised a co-worker of hers who was in her bank when one of the employees there did something very discriminatory. As a result, Ms. Gall's co-worker made phone calls to a couple of levels of management saying that she expected more from her bank.
Our last stop for the "Walk for Justice" was at the Stokes Federal Courthouse where the matters of "Due Process and a Path to Citizenship" were addressed. Father Rob Reidy started off by saying that he wasn't a lawyer but had learned enough about the law from what several people in his parish have had to go through.
Father Reidy focused on his experiences when he tried to assist those detained at the South Texas Family Residential Detention Center in Dilley, Texas. He believed that to detain people in this manner was wrong because they lack the ability to communicate with family members and friends; it is tough to access immigration attorneys who can help them because the facility is isolated; in order to be released one often has to purchase a $30,000.00 bond; and there is, of course, a language barrier so people who do not speak English can never be too sure about what they are signing.
Father Reidy drew a round of applause when he said that he hated the term "illegal alien" because most of the time the only "illegal" act that these people have committed is coming to the United States. In addition, the only "alien" that he knew was "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial."
He praised President Barack Obama for doing all that he possibly could to help the undocumented. He reminded us that the comprehensive immigration reform bill of 2013 was passed by a big margin in the U.S. Senate but the former U.S. House Speaker John Boehner lacked the courage to get it through Congress.
Father Reidy concluded by saying that what he wanted was for a way for more people to ultimately have access to citizenship. He then praised the police who accompanied us on the "Walk for Justice" for "going out of their way to help us today."
The last speaker was a young man who had been assisted by the DACA program. He was doing well but expressed outrage over the detainment of his mother who was not being given the insulin that she so badly needed while in detention. By contrast, he cited an instance wherein a Caucasian woman was provided with insulin right away.
The "Walk for Justice" was about to end. Before we conclude, we want to say that at every stop religious leaders lead us in prayer and there were often musical interludes. It was a day of great meaning.
Before we returned to our cars to go other places, Bishop Allende said that even though the "Walk for Justice" was formally over our own walk must continue via our efforts to seek justice for immigrants. Comprehensive and compassionate immigration reform was not about politics or economics or even a social issue but, instead, it was a moral issue about people.
Sister Rita then stepped up to recall that when we started we said that it was essential that we have a peaceful walk in the name of dignity that on behalf of ourselves and all of our brothers and sisters. She said that we should be proud that we had done that. She encouraged us to continue to speak out for those who must remain silent and continue to stand together as brothers and sisters.
Margaret W. Wong & Assoc. Co., LLC