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"Family Unity" National Immigration Tour Stop In San Jose

by Rep. Michael Honda

Editor's note: We carry Congressman Michael Honda's remarks along with testimonials by members of the Community at the ďFamily UnityĒ National Immigration Tour Stop in San Jose on Saturday, April 18, 2009.

Thank you Father Jon. To all of you brave enough to share your stories tonight, all we have to say is this: We hear you. We get it. I feel blessed to stand here and receive your testimonials. Congressman Luis Gutierrez and I, we will make sure that your voices are heard on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.

This system is broken, and the time to fix it is now. Families are the basic foundation of our society. And comprehensive immigration reform should keep our loved ones together. Immigrants who have the support of strong families are more likely to finish school, work hard, pay more taxes, and start businesses that create jobs. Immigrants who are here Ė and who want to bring their families here Ė are committed to this country, invested in this country, in becoming Americans and giving back. I think we should let them. What do you think?

This immigration debate within the past few years has been tough. It has been ugly and xenophobic. But immigrant contributions have always driven Americaís growth. This is a part of Americaís history and Americaís legacy as a country of immigrants.

To honor immigrant contributions, we need a comprehensive approach that is just and humane.

What does that mean? It means respecting the dignity of immigrants. It means not tearing already struggling families apart. It means not separating mothers from their children, wage-earners from their sick spouses, especially not in this economy.

Letís make an earned path to citizenship for hardworking immigrants. These immigrants will earn more, and contribute more tax dollars to our state and local governments that are strapped for cash.

Letís keep Annabelle with her four children and her ill husband, so that her family stays afloat, so that they donít have to go on public assistance.

Letís clear those family backlogs and allow grandparents like Angelina to live a life of happiness in a full house with her children and grandchildren.

Letís pass the Uniting American Families Act, of which I am a proud cosponsor, and let lifelong partners like Shirley Tan and Jay Mercado stay together and raise their 12-year old twin boys - together. I want to thank my friend Judy Rickard for her push for equality for all in our immigration system.

Letís give talented undocumented students like Mary, Marx's sisters, and Belen's brother a chance to pursue their dreams to become doctors, teachers, and computer scientists. Letís give them a shot to contribute to our economy, and not let U.S. education dollars go to waste.

I want to share with you a quote from Leviticus 19:33-34:

ďif a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not vex him. But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.Ē

All of our spiritual communities teach love and compassion. Let us remind ourselves of the teachings of Jesus, and Abraham, Ibrahim, and Mohammed, of Buddha, and Brahma, of Gandhi, and Martin Luther King Jr. Letís follow these spiritual teachings, that are universal in all of our diverse communities whether we are white, black, Latino, or Asian.

The Asian Pacific Islander community is often left out of the national immigration debate. Our stories are too often left unheard, and our voices silenced. I am so proud of all of you tonight who have shared your stories, but I want to particularly thank those of you who have shared with us, shared with the entire country, your stories from the Asian Pacific Islander community. I am proud of you and hope that many others will be inspired by your stories, raise their voices, and share their own hardships in this broken immigration system.

Letís do this together. There are so many common hardships that are experienced within this broken system, across all of our families and our communities, whether white, black, Latino or Asian Pacific Islander. Letís stand together for comprehensive immigration reform that works for our country, and for our families.

With our friends Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, Congressman Luis Gutierrez, and with President Barack Obama, we must enact comprehensive immigration reform.

The time to act is now. Letís make this change happen together.

I now want to introduce to you a man whose mission in this Congress is to keep our families united. I am so privileged to call this man my friend and colleague. Please welcome Congressman Luis Gutierrez.

Testimonials as Prepared for Delivery by Members of the Community

1) Agnes

My name is Agnes and I am an American citizen. I came to the U.S. from the Philippines and have lived here in San Jose for 31 years, where I work for a bio-technology company. My children went to Silver Creek High School.

My brother, Digno, also a citizen, has always worked very hard for much of his life. Digno met his wife Annabelle here in San Jose and they fell in love. They have four lovely children, two boys and two girls. The oldest is eleven years old, and the youngest is three.

In December of last year, Digno got very sick and couldn't work anymore. Really, he's been sick for much longer, but ignored it so that he could work and take care of his family. The doctors tell us that he has a lump in his chest. He can not eat or walk by himself. Just last week he fell down the stairs. Digno would be standing here telling you his own story today if he were not sick.

The problem for our family is that Digno's wife, Annabelle, is undocumented. And because she doesn't have her papers, she cannot work, and does not have a driver's license. I have been doing my best to help support my brother and his wife, to drive her to the grocery store, and look after the children. If Annabelle could work, I would not have to work so hard to help my brother's family. I have three children of my own.

We are so afraid -- I am so afraid -- that one day, Annabelle and Digno's dear children will come home from school and their mom will have been deported. Children should never, ever be separated from their mothers. Especially not young children, and especially not when their father is sick.

Without Annabelle, who cooks, cleans, cares for her kids, there will be no one to keep this family together. I don't know what I would do. How could I take care of my sick brother and his four kids all by myself? I don't even want to think about it.

Congressman Honda, and Congressman Gutierrez, this system is broken. Our family cannot afford to be separated. Please help us.

2) Ana

My name is Ana. I am the mother of Carlos Rosales, who is 20 years old. We are U.S. citizens, and we have been suffering from family separation since my husband, Enrique Rosales, was deported on October 14, 2008. He is now living in Guadalajara, Mexico.

Mr. Gutierrez and Mr. Honda, we are here, my son and I, to ask for your help and to share with you the suffering that Carlos and I feel every day. As you can see, Carlos is very sick, and his father was very special to him. As any son would be, Carlos was so happy spending time with his father. Imagine the heartbreak and confusion a son might feel when a father is no longer able to be a part of his life.

Now we are alone, Carlos and I, without the help and support of my loving husband. I have to take care of my very sick son all by myself. It has not been easy, and I am doing my best.

That is why we are asking you, Congressman Honda and Congressman Gutierrez, to please tell President Obama and the other Members of Congress that it is time to make a law to reunite the families that have been separated. Too many families are worried because they donít have legal documentation; too many are worried that when they go to work they might not come home. Right now there are thousands of cases where a father or mother goes to work, and doesnít come back to see their children because they are held by immigration and then deported.

For the love of God, Congressmen Honda and Gutierrez, tell President Obama and the other Members of Congress to stop these arrests and deportations, and to keep families united, and God will shine his light on all of you. Thank you so much. I am gratefully at your service.

3) Angelina

I am Angelina Mendoza, a Filipina and an American citizen. I was petitioned by my brother, a U.S. citizen, in April 1978. The immigration petition includes my husband, and our three minor children, all below 18 years of age when their petitions were approved. When the visa became available to us, more than 20 years later, our children were no longer eligible to immigrate with us, as they were aged out. Though my husband and I appreciate and are thankful for the privilege given to us to be immigrants, and now U.S. citizens, we were still unhappy in view of the fact that our children were unable to join us here in the U.S. We find America to be a wonderful place to live in, but being separated from our children and our grandchildren gives us so much anxiety and sleepless nights and longing to have our children and our grandchildren with us here. We find communicating with our children very expensive. We even have to travel by plane, even if we can hardly afford it, just so we can be with our children. Another problem we had was our age. We immigrated when we were already in our twilight years, I was 65 years old and my husband was 69 years of age when we became immigrants due to long, long, long wait for our visas. We had lots of difficulties during our early years here. We found it difficult to get a job, and felt that we were less productive due to our old age. We always worked and love to work hard. That is the American way. But, what is the Child Status Projection Act about? Can this apply to our children? We hope that under President Barack Obama, a compassionate man, our immigration laws could be made more family oriented. We need comprehensive immigration reform. We do pray and hope that we can see the day when our family will be united here in the United States. Thank you very much.

4) Marx

My name is Marx and my family came to the United States 14 years ago. I am one of three children. But I am the only one with legal status.

Our family is struggling financially. The fact that my parents have not been able to get status has caused instability and insecurity in our lives. My father has been struggling to find a stable job. He was working as a chef for many years. But we moved to Sacramento, and he tried to salvage his employment by commuting all the way from Sacramento. This placed a huge burden on our family and he eventually was forced to quit. Now he does not have a stable job or provide income for our family. Every time he applies for a job, he is asked for a license or documentation. Something he just doesn't own. My mother is a housekeeper. The work is very difficult and labor intensive. She has the skills to be a community organizer but without legal status - it is impossible for her to be one. Our family is very low income; my older sisters have to work to help with our rent and living expenses. My sister has to work and go to school at the same time. My other sister sacrifices her personal life and education. I am only in 11th grade and I am already trying to find a job to help my family survive.

Our family is struggling emotionally. It is very hard for my siblings and I to see our parents work twice as hard to receive less than those who have status. It hurts to see my mother constantly sorting through bills - having to decide which are most urgent. Our health care. Our education. Our food on the table. Our roof over our heads. It hurts to see my father miss out on what he loves to do. He is an excellent chef with more than 20 years of experience but without a green card, he is kept from sharing and exploring his cooking talents. We contemplate whether or not we should just pack up and leave. After 15 years of living in the United States, we still do not feel at home here. We feel like outsiders who are still trying to adjust. But, Mexico is not a home either. I do not speak Spanish well enough to live in Mexico. Returning to a country that we have not seen in over a decade is frightening. Times change and we have no idea how we would get a job or support ourselves. We would be immigrants in what is ďsupposedĒ to be our country.

Our family is constantly struggling. My older sisters are strong, intelligent young women- both attending San Jose State University. They both have dreams to improve our communities, to help change the world through supporting non-profits, small businesses, education, and working with youth. My sisters are contributing immensely to our economy and society. They too deserve recognition for all they have accomplished and given to our community.

My familiesí loyalty to America has been unsurpassed. Yet the insecurity that we live is emotionally and physically draining. My parentís fear some of the most simple American privileges that others take for granted - like traveling, driving, and applying for a job. My family is waiting for me to get my license so that we can travel with more security. As I prepare to finish high school and think of my life in the future, I am torn by the fact that my family will be left behind and excluded from the rights and privileges of this great country. At times the emotional strain makes me feel like I should just give up. But I won't. So I ask you this, when will America finally recognize the humanity of my family and the immense contributions that we have made to this society?

5) Jose and Bellen

Good evening, my name is Belen and I am a U.S. citizen. I am here tonight to speak on behalf of many undocumented students who cannot follow their dreams.

My brother and sister are undocumented. They are bilingual and would like to contribute to our community by becoming a doctor and a teacher. Bilingual doctors and teachers serve such a valuable role in our society. Why wouldn't we want them to work and use their skills to make our country stronger?

My brother and sister are two exceptional students who graduated with honors, and have always given back to the community. They are not able to fulfill their dreams due to their legal status.

Itís really unfortunate to experience the difference between being a documented student and an undocumented one. In our family, the hardships and lack of opportunities for my siblings have been extremely evident. Both Jose and I were able to attend and graduate from Santa Clara University and immediately practice our profession of interest, engineering. However my sister, although accepted three times, was not able to attend Santa Clara due to lack of financial aid. She still works very hard because her goal is to become a teacher and motivate our youth to pursue their dreams.

My older brother has been a role model in our community and in our family. He has not only been a mentor to many undocumented students who pursue higher education, but he has been an advocate for them. He is compassionate and loves science. He graduated from San Jose State University in spite of the many hardships that he faced, and that we faced as a family. It is heartbreaking to see that it is the only thing preventing him from admission to medical school is his lack of status.

Both of my siblings make it clear that they do not want handouts. They only want the opportunity to have access to higher education and the access to put their knowledge to practice in our communities. They believe in community, they believe in the American Dream, and yet we tend to turn our face and ignore their reality, our national reality. It is ironic that we as Americans claim to be believers and advocates of human rights in our country and abroad, and yet at this moment we are ignoring people who are living next to me, next to you, next to us. It is very difficult to describe how it feels for Jose and I have rights, while my other siblings do not have the same rights even though we have grown up together in the same home.

It is ironic that my siblings who know only this nation are not able to adjust to a legal status. The immigration system has impeded my parents and siblings from adjusting to a lawful status in spite of being outstanding members of their community, paying their taxes, and living in the U.S. for almost 20 years. As a U.S. citizen, I feel that we must push for just and humane immigration reform so that we can incorporate these hardworking persons into our society and instead of pretending we do not have a problem that demands our attention.

6) Tim

Good evening, my name is Tim Tararug. I am Thai-American, born in Mountain View and raised in San Jose. In fact, I live right around the corner from this church. I went to Independence High School, spent 2 years in an Americorps Program and now I am at De Anza College. I want to let you know about my friend Mary.

Mary is a young Cambodian woman, and daughter of refugee parents. In 1978, the Khmer Rouge invaded Cambodia and executed a genocide that killed an estimated 1.5 million people, about one-fifth of the entire Cambodian population. Mary's parents were one of the few who fled this horrendous massacre and escaped to Thailand, where she was born in a refugee camp. After living in harsh conditions at the camp with thousands of other refugees for months, Mary and her family were finally sponsored to the United States and resettled trying tirelessly to integrate their identities into American culture when Mary was still very young. Unfortunately, she doesnít remember how she got here, and she doesnít have any paperwork to show proof of her family's sponsorship or their legal status. To this day, her parents still speak little English. And because of the language barriers and the cultural gap between generations, her parents, who have successfully suppressed their memories of war and trauma, are still unable to share their journey to America with their daughter.

She was able to navigate the education system without parents who understood the American education system themselves. She studied and worked hard and attended U.C. Santa Cruz where she recently graduated with a degree in Computer Science. But despite her hard work and perseverance to succeed, Mary canít use her degree. Mary is highly educated, but not having a social security number has invalidated her academic accomplishments.

I am Thai-American and Southeast Asian. Mary is Cambodian-American and Southeast Asian. My parents immigrated to America for better opportunities. Mary's parents escaped to America, fleeing from war, looking for better opportunities too. We both grew up in California and attended public schools all our lives. But when I graduate, I will have every opportunity to pursue my goals and dreams. But Mary won't. Why am I allowed to pursue my goals and dreams, but Mary can't hers?

I thank Congressman Gutierrez and Honda for caring about this issue and doing something about it. We already invested in Mary letís make sure that she can invest in us. Thank you.

About The Author

Rep. Michael Honda has represented the 15th Congressional District of California in the U.S. House of Representatives since 2001. Mike earned Bachelor's degrees in Biological Sciences and Spanish, and a Master's degree in Education from San Josť State University. Mike is serving his second term as Chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, coordinating with his colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucuses to champion the causes of under-represented communities by promoting social justice, racial tolerance, and civil rights. In January, 2007, he was named House Democratic Senior Whip by House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC). Senior Whips are a select group of Members and Democratic Caucus opinion leaders tasked with strategic planning about how issues impact targeted Members or groups, and will help develop strategies to ensure legislative success.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.