Coalition pushing for immigration reform

02/22/2013 12:00 AM

02/21/2013 12:59 AM

Armando Bellmas, director of communications with the Latin American Coalition, said 2013 is the year for immigration reform.

In a recent press conference at the Levine Museum of the New South, he said one of the coalition’s priorities is to address legislation that breaks up families with undocumented members.

“Over 5,000 children are in foster care because of the deportation of their parents,” Bellmas said. “It’s estimated that another 1,500 will be in foster care this year if the policy doesn’t change. Any piece of legislation that deals with immigration must address this problem. This needs to stop.”

Bellmas said the Latino community is growing and doing well in Charlotte, but there are always issues. He said Latinos are not always welcomed with open arms.

“There are several different facets to our community,” he said. “There are some of us who are doing very well and have good jobs, and there are some of us who have to work from six in the morning to 12 at night just to put food on the table. But just as we need to welcome the affluent family from New York or California who work in the banks, we also need to welcome the family who moves here to build the banks.”

The press conference came on the coattails of an announcement by the N.C. Department of Transportation that it would issue driver’s licenses to young undocumented immigrants who qualify for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Their licenses will read “no lawful status” on the front and back. As reported by The (Raleigh) News & Observer, 18,000 to 50,000 teens and young adults in North Carolina will receive the license.

Jess George, executive director of the coalition, said while it’s a step in the right direction, it’s hardly enough.

“We do no favors when we deny citizens their rights,” she said. “But we are encouraged by the efforts towards reform.”

The Americans for Legal Immigration PAC, a group against amnesty for undocumented immigrants, called officials who supported the law “traitors.” George said she was frustrated with their reaction, but not surprised.

“They are just a fringe group using fear mongering to stop reform,” she said. “We’ve been fighting too long and too hard for families to pay them much attention.”

The coalition, together with the National Council of La Raza, is sending 45 youth advocates from United 4 the Dream to Washington, D.C., to speak with elected officials who craft laws on immigration reform. As advocates for young immigrants, they’ll discuss how reform will affect them directly by telling their personal stories of living in America as undocumented citizens.

Armando Cruz-Martinez of United 4 the Dream will be among those speaking. His family was forced to move back to Mexico after his father was deported in 2010, but Martinez stayed behind to finish school.

“I was separated from my family because of a country that I was born in, a country that I love,” he said. “The Latino voice is growing and is more relevant than ever. We need more action and less rhetoric.”

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