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Federal immigration reform could pave local Latinos' path to citizenship

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Published on: Wednesday, May 22, 2013

By Tauren Dyson

Rosario Hernandez’s pathway to the U.S. from Mexico came in 1995, and three years later her journey led her to become a pastor in Langley Park.

In 2000, she noticed the overall rise in the number of Latinos in Prince George’s County, as the population shot up to 57,000. By 2010, that number soared to 120,900, with 14,359 living in Langley Park. Many of those migrating from Latin American countries entered the U.S. illegally, and crime against members of that community continued to rise

“My ministry is in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods — Langley Park,” Hernandez said. “Frequently we face delinquency, drugs dealers and other things.”

On Monday, as the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee began its first week of deliberating an immigration reform bill, Hernandez, along with other clergy, immigration advocates, politicians, and community stakeholders met at Casa de Maryland, not far from Hernandez’s La Sagrada Familia (The Holy Family) Lutheran Church, to listen to Sen. Ben Cardin’s plans to help shape immigration reform.

The immigration reform bill as it is currently proposed will undergo many changes throughout the weeks, Cardin said. But after unsuccessful attempts to pass an immigration reform bill in the past, Cardin said that a deal has to get done this time — even though he anticipates partisan quibbling and changes to the current proposal.

“This is our best opportunity, because we have a truly bipartisan effort,” Cardin said.

Many concerns of those in attendance surrounded employment, health care, and public safety among undocumented workers and immigrants seeking a path to citizenship.

Immigration reform could not only provide citizenship for people who are currently here illegally, but it could also bring comfort for members of that community who wish to report crimes.

“There’s a fear factor,” said Prince George’s NAACP president Bob Ross. “They have the same fear that we have in the black community of the police. … They have a fear of being deported; we have a fear of being locked up.”

One of the common problems Hernandez said her congregation faces is when the child’s parent is deported back to their home country. Since July 2010, Homeland Security has deported more than 200,000 parents of children who are legal citizens. Currently, there are more than 11,000,000 immigrants living in the United States.

“Most immigrants … think the police is the enemy, in most countries like El Salvador and other places of that nature,” Ross said.

A pathway to citizenship could bring peace of mind to many undocumented workers who fear deportation.

“The most fundamental revision in the bill is a pathway to citizenship for the millions of people living in this country illegally,” Cardin said. “It’s far from the finish line.”

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