Putting a Face to the Immigration Debate
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Cathy Gurney, a landscape business owner, says she is finding it increasingly difficult to find legal workers to sustain her business in Chico, Calif. If Congress doesn't pass an immigration reform bill, Gurney says she might have to close her business -- one that she and her husband started as a legacy for their family.
But instead of protesting and marching in the streets to get Congress' attention, Gurney is trying a different approach: She's headed to Capitol Hill to tell her story in person. Gurney, along with 100 other "dreamers," yesterday boarded a D.C.-bound train from Union Station in Los Angeles in hopes of putting a face to the debate about immigration.
"Why did I leave my business to take 10 days to go to D.C.?" Gurney asks. "I saw this as a chance to take people of diverse backgrounds and show the American public that there is another side to this issue. ... Immigrants are not taking jobs from Americans; I know for a fact, from my business, that is absolutely not true."
Congress shelved immigration negotiations last week, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell announced last night that the immigration bill could return to the Senate floor as early as next week.
Last night's news picked everybody up, Gurthy said. The dreamers were running seven hours behind schedule at noon today, but Reid and McConnell's announcement has made this trip all the more worth it.
"It's very much encouraged us," Gurthy said. "It's worth it because this is a historical trip for a historical event. We're thinking positive thoughts; we're bringing them the story of the people of the United States."
Gurney is traveling with Dreams Across America. Along the way, they will use online storytelling to profile their personal struggles and keep the pressure on Congress to push through an immigration reform bill. The "dreamers" chose to travel on train tracks built by Chinese immigrants. They are also traveling on trains that were, in the beginning, staffed by African Americans.
"The purpose of this journey is the journey," said online/video director Rick Jacobs. "Immigrants are nearly all of us. There are faces associated with action and inaction in Washington, and we're calling on members of Congress and telling them our stories."
The campaign has faced harsh criticism from Lou Dobbs, who on his show alleged that the group is promoting illegal immigration and calling for "amnesty" for illegal immigrants.
Jacobs said that the group is not promoting illegal immigration, but instead calling for Congress to pass legislation to help illegal immigrants stop living in the "shadows."
Americans have one of two choices to make, Jacobs said: You can either allow illegal immigrants to continue living in the shadows, unable to participate in the economy or the banking system, or "you can have people who are part of the economy, who are vibrant people, who have full documentation."
Dreams Across America will be stopping along the way, and holding rallies in certain cities.
They are also asking people to submit their own stories and "get on the train," by signing a petition to support immigration reform that:
Nurse Wynona Stears, an immigrant from Belize, is one of the "dreamers." She says that "most immigrants do good for the country."
"We work hard, we contribute and all we're asking is to have the American dream, to have a good life," Stears says.
Stears' sister, who is no longer living, came to the United States in 1986 and tried for 11 years to get her citizenship. Because Stears' sister wasn't a citizen, she could never go back to Belize and visit her three children. In 2001, while holding down two jobs, she died of a stroke.
The Stears family story is just one of many that the travelers are communicating to the masses. The Dreams Across America Web site will feature the story of one "dreamer" each day of their trip. Today's dreamer is a Polish immigrant named Tony.
Tony's wife was deported last week, along with their son who had just graduated kindergarten. In the video, Tony calls this day the worst day of his life and wonders when he will next see his son. To view his story, click on the video to the right.
Vanja Petrovic is an editorial intern with AlterNet.