White House Official, Student Activist Address Immigration Summit

White House Official, Student Activist Address Immigration Summit

June 7, 2011 – Washington, DC – As a student, Gaby Pacheco had learned about the Ku Klux Klan, but never thought she’d see it in action.

But, here she was in 2010 Georgia, witnessing a KKK rally — from children 8 or 9 years old to a 90-year-old man, all dressed in white hoods, “rallying and speaking about a Latino invasion.”

That rally took place as Pacheo, 26, and an immigrant from Ecuador, joined with three other young immigrants on a Trail of Dreams, a 1,500-mile walk that took them from Miami, Florida., to Washington, D.C., in an effort to bring attention to the DREAM Act, which would provide a path for undocumented students who came to this country as children to become citizens.

It was difficult to see that KKK rally, she said, but she realized that at no point in the ralliers’ lives did anyone stand up to them to say, “What are you doing?”

Pacheo was among the speakers to wrap up an AJC-hosted national summit on immigration, with a Call to Action. The three-day summit – part of AJC’s Bridging America Project, which trains and mobilizes leaders in strategic communities across the country — drew some 120 business leaders, labor union activists, government, law enforcement, health care officials and faith leaders.

“We have to talk to people in the opposition,” said Pacheo, who was 7-years-old when her family came to this country and is the program coordinator for United We Dream. The group’s goal, she said, is to “who everyone that doesn’t believe us that we are as American as apple pie.”

Felicia Escobar, the senior immigration policy adviser for the White House Domestic Policy Council, assured attendees that President Barack Obama remains “very committed to passing comprehensive immigration reform.”

She also said the administration recognizes the importance of working outside of Washington to get things done, and working in concert with advocacy groups such as those represented at the summit.

The fight for immigrants, Escobar said, must focus not only on the morality of the issue, but also on the economics that immigrants are good for the country, as taxpayers, job creators, small business owners and entrepreneurs.

“You’ve already started that work,” she told summit participants, by “bringing down walls and creating bridges.…double down on those efforts.”

When Jerry Gonzalez, executive director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, pressed her on why the president has not used his executive authority to defer the deportation of students who would be eligible for the DREAM Act, were it to be enacted, Escobar said, “We do that every day.” Obama does not believe he can do it as a blanket ruling, but “we are making decisions on a case-by-case basis.”

Pacheo later pointed out that she didn’t think it was a bad thing to make those decisions on a case-by-case basis, as all applications for citizenship are also considered case by case. However, she urged delegates “to get involved with the campaign to stop deportations” of students and their families.

When another delegate pointed out to Escobar that Obama is losing the support of many Latinos who believe he has not done enough to help immigrants, she countered that “In these economic times, spending any time on anything other than the economy is very difficult.”

Nevertheless, she said, the president has not put the issue aside, as witnessed by his recent immigration reform speech in El Paso, Texas.

“Until we have bipartisan support in Congress, we are not going to be able to pass reform,” she said.

Asked if Obama would veto a nationally mandated E-Verify, which currently allows employers voluntarily to check the immigration status of employees,” Escobar would not commit, saying, “A phased-in mandate is the way to go.”

At an earlier session, Alejandro Mayorkas, director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, had said the government does not yet have the infrastructure to support a national mandated E-Verify.

In the morning’s final remarks before participants headed to Capitol Hill to meet with legislators, David Harris, AJC executive director, spoke of the “two critically important and overriding themes” that drive his organization’s involvement in immigration rights.

One, he said, is the ethical imperative “that has taught us for thousands of years that we were once strangers in the land of Egypt, that has taught us to be sensitive to the needs of those less fortunate … that the denial of dignity to any individual is the denial of dignity to all.”

Second, he said, Jews have “an abiding interest in the well-being of this country. We understand that America is a permanent work in progress.”

The country now, he said, is facing a situation that is untenable in which millions of people live in the shadows, working for exploitive employers in a system that is broken.

The Jewish community, he said, has an obligation to be center stage. “We must be among those who, like Paul Revere — and I’ll get my history right — alert those who need to know of the dangers at hand.”Date: 6/7/2011 12:00:00 AM
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