Hundreds rally in Grand Junction for immigration reform |

Hundreds rally in Grand Junction for immigration reform

Sharon Sullivan
Courtesy / Ricardo Perez
Staff Photo |

Immigrant rights activists remembered the late Father John Kiernan at last Saturday’s rally in Grand Junction where hundreds marched in support of comprehensive immigration reform.

The elderly Roman Catholic priest, who was the son of Irish immigrants, had worked since the 1980s with western Colorado’s immigrant communities up until his death three years ago.

Husband and wife Jose and Herlinda Avila of Delta carried a sign with a photo of Kiernan, with the words both in English and in Spanish: “Step in to Freedom.”

“He was always with us,” so we brought him with us today, Jose Talavera of Clifton, said of Kiernan.

By some counts, nearly 1,000 people from across the Western Slope gathered at Sherwood Park, then marched to Lincoln Park and back, carrying signs and chanting slogans.

“Our main point is there are many decent, honest people working here,” Jose Avila said. “They deserve to have documents, drive a car and not be afraid.”

The rally was held in support of comprehensive immigration reform legislation that was introduced in the U.S. Senate April 17 by the bipartisan “gang of eight.” Dubbed the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, the bill would provide a path to citizenship for people living in the U.S. illegally who arrived before Dec. 31, 2011.

The estimated 13-year process would include passing background checks, obtaining jobs, and paying any back taxes and penalties. Agricultural workers and “Dreamers” (unauthorized immigrants who came to this country as children and who meet certain requirements) could obtain citizenship in a shorter amount of time.

As the law currently stands, an undocumented immigrant can be deported from the U.S. from detention, even when they have children at home who were born in the U.S. and are citizens, said Eddie Soto of Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition.

Carrying miniature American flags, Fruita resident Carlos Ruiz and his 2-year-old son, Diego, attended the rally to show his support for immigration reform.

“It is a broken system,” that allows certain employers to take advantage of people, Ruiz said.

“Also, it’s sad because it separates families. I can’t imagine being deported and my kids staying here.”

It’s much worse for everyone to make those children wards of the state, Ruiz said.

“It’s no longer a liberal, immigrant-rights objective,” Colorado Mesa University Spanish Prof. Tom Acker said. “It’s a countrywide, multi-sector objective.”

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the agricultural industry, and the United Farmworkers all support passage of this legislation, Acker said.

Constituent services advocate Susan Holappa spoke in favor of the legislation on behalf of Colorado Sen. Mark Udall. The office of Sen. Michael Bennet, another Colorado Democrat, sent a letter in support as well.

Republican Congressman Scott Tipton’s office also sent a letter saying the current system “is broken.”

In an email to the Free Press, Tipton spokesperson Josh Green said: “With regard to the Gang of 8 proposal, Congressman Tipton is currently reviewing the proposal, and is optimistic about a number of its aspects including increased border security and expanded guest worker programs.”

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