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Community Forum on Immigration Reform

September 15, 2009

The West Michigan Coalition for Comprehensive Immigration Reform hosted a kick-off event at the GVSU downtown campus Monday night.  The forum featured music from local musicians, speakers from many sectors of the community and an information table. The event was also co-sponsored by the GVSU Latin American Studies Department.

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The first speaker of the evening was Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell who acknowledged that the current immigration policy of this country was broken and was in need of reform. Heartwell reminded the audience that “we are a nation of immigrants” and that any attempt to prevent new immigrants would be “un-American.” The Mayor ended his brief comments by declaring that he too was an immigrant and would stand with those who are currently being targeted by government policies.

Some speakers addressed the multi-racial crowd in Spanish, such as former GRPS Board member Luis Pena, Octavio Reyes – a local radio DJ – and Martin Padilla with the Michigan Organizing Project.

Other speaks addressed topics such as the impact that immigrants have on the economy, how US policy abroad influences immigration to this country and where the local faith community stands on this critical issue.

Ferris State Professor Barry Mehler told the crowd that the current anti-immigration movement is connected to a White Nationalist movement and that they are very organized. One of the most visible anti-immigration groups is Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), who is in Washington, DC today to lobby Congress.

Some of the most powerful speakers were those who have been personally affected by the current immigration policy. One young woman who is a student talked about how she is not eligible for student loans, despite her academic achievements, because she is undocumented. Another speaker talked about how his children live in fear of their parents being arrested and deported by immigration law enforcement officials and one woman shared her story about being married to an undocumented man who was deported and has never seen his 5 year old daughter because he can not come back to the US.

Once the speakers had finished their comments people were invited to sign up to join the coalition and take action packets that included fact sheets, letters to Congress and a DVD/discussion guide for use in house parties. For those wanting to become involved in learning about or advocating for comprehensive immigration reform can contact Diane at dianelawkessler@gmail.com.

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