Inspired by Washington's fresh focus on immigration, a diverse group of Pennsylvania activists, supported by Philadelphia City Council members James Kenney and Maria Quiñones Sánchez, unveiled a statewide campaign to oppose tighter border restrictions and to promote citizenship for the nation's 11 million undocumented immigrants.
The group, Pennsylvania United for Immigration Reform, said Wednesday that it would highlight "failed and mismanaged" policies that "destroy families" through deportations.
Its members include leading Arab, Indo-Chinese, Cambodian, Vietnamese, and Latino nonprofits in the region, along with Community Legal Services of Philadelphia.
Blanca Pacheco of the New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia said at a Center City news conference that she was encouraged by the apparent bipartisan support for the immigration overhaul being crafted in the Senate.
But she said she worried that the effort would stall if President Obama, whose administration has deported a record number of illegal immigrants, gives in to Republican demands that even tougher border enforcement precede any pathway to earned citizenship.
"Our borders are already secure," she said, and tough enforcement is "tearing families apart."
Judi Bernstein Baker, director of the nonprofit legal services group HIAS Pennsylvania, said any overhaul must end the visa backlog that forces some foreigners to wait decades to join their families living legally in the United States.
The news conference, attended by more than 100 Latino, Asian, Caribbean and African immigrant activists, took place in the AFSCME District Council 47 union hall, decorated with murals of social reformers Paul Robeson, Eleanor Roosevelt, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and others.
"Take a moment and look around this room," said Baker, opening her arms to encompass the audience. "And consider it. Because this is America."
Kenney echoed the theme.
"I am the face of immigration," he said, recounting his family's Irish roots.
He said any overhaul must include both unskilled immigrant laborers and professionals eligible for EB-5 visas.
"That important statue in [New York] Harbor says, 'Give me your tired, your poor ... yearning to breathe free,' " he said. "It doesn't say, bring me your EB-5s and engineers. It says all of us. ... Let's help them become Americans."
Sánchez said the reform movement had gained "substantial momentum" because Latino voters played a crucial role in Obama's reelection.
"Let's not waste this opportunity," she said. What emerges from Congress may be "an imperfect law. But this is an opportunity to move the agenda forward. [It's] a long game. Let us take what we can get."