This Activity Was to Send a Message, a Very Strong Message, to Our Congressman, Scott Tipton.’
MONTROSE – Speaking for those who do not have a voice, or are too afraid to let themselves be heard, a large group of immigrants and supporters of immigration reform organized a rally in downtown Montrose last weekend with one unified message: immigration reform must be a priority and must passed by Congress.
As evening fell on Delmont Park on the corner of Main Street and Townsend Ave. Saturday, local immigrants, some of them farm workers, gathered with other community members holding signs and telling stories in English and Spanish of the hardships of living in the United States illegally and struggling to becoming a citizen.
"This activity was to send a message, a very strong message, to our congressman, Scott Tipton, that 70 percent or more of Americans support immigration reform,” said Ricardo Pérez, the executive director of the Proyecto de Asuntos Hispanos (the Hispanic Affairs Project), a Montrose-based nonprofit whose mission is to serve the needs of immigrants in Western Colorado. “So far, he said no."
Pérez, an immigrant from El Salvador, said 20 percent of Montrose's population are immigrants, primarily from Mexico, and that in Olathe their numbers soar to 50 percent. The immigrants work in local agriculture, construction and restaurants, and represent a large portion of the economy of Western Colorado.
"Our participation in the economy is strong," said Perez.
Laura Figueroa, who attended Rep. Tipton's Oct. 26 town hall meeting in Montrose, said she feels more empowered than ever to speak for the 11 million undocumented individuals already living in the United States. An immigrant who is now a naturalized citizen, Figueroa remembers a time when she lived in this country illegally. "It's hard to raise a family, get a job or even drive a car," she said. "A lot of people here want reform,” and “this country would benefit.”
Figueroa attended the rally with her brother, David, and friends Maria and Jose Pacheco and Maria Gonzales; the group also attended Tipton's town hall meeting earlier this month.
Gonzales said undocumented people don't want to live under a false name or present "fake ID's, to live a lie of another identity."
Immigration reform would give undocumented people new hope for a better life, she said.
Immigration reform activists and supporters are turning increasingly to social media to build support for reform and spread news about the progress of House Resolution 15, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act. "We can share this information with the Internet through Facebook, to use our voices to reach our representatives [including] Scott Tipton, and all of his people," Gonzales said.
During the rally, many Hispanic attendees were taking pictures on smart phones and sending messages through Facebook.
A 1,137-page bill, HR 15, popularly known as the "immigration reform" bill, introduced to Congress early last month, has not yet made it out of committee, and political observers have said it has little chance of reaching the floor of the House of Representatives for a vote (the Senate passed the bill on June 27). The bill lays the groundwork for overhauling the country’s immigration laws for the first time since 1986, creating a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented residents, streamlining a guest-worker visa program, and strengthening security along the U.S.-Mexican border.
Tipton, a Republican from Cortez, has been in office since 2010, when he unseated Democrat John Salazar. The Third Congressional District he represents covers the entire Western Slope, and stretches east to incorporate the city of Pueblo.
Carlos Antonio, an immigrant and attendee at last Saturday's rally, said Tipton should listen to his constituency; a recent poll indicated that 77 percent of voters in Tipton’s district favor immigration reform. Tipton and his staff have been traveling across the congressman’s large district and holding town hall meetings in order to engage with the public about issues such as immigration. Tipton has said that a deadline set by President Barack Obama to have a immigration reform bill completed by the end of the year is attainable.
“It may not be in the framework exactly of what the President would like to see,” Tipton told The Watch, “but we need to have Congress actually roll up its sleeves and get to work so we are not dealing with the same issue twenty years down the road.”
Tipton told The Watch that large, comprehensive bills like immigration or health care “create real challenges on the House side” of the U.S. Congress.
Tipton's office on Tuesday told The Watch that the congressman firmly believes "Congress must address immigration reform in this country. Verifiable border security and a strengthened guest-worker program are two vital steps, among others, to permanently fixing the problems facing our immigration system and ensuring that we don’t end up here again in 20 years with the same challenges.
"Furthermore, Congressman Tipton believes that we can all have compassion, and should, for children brought here through no accord of their own. To that end, the House is currently in the process of working on a reform plan, that through a step-by-step approach,” which Congressman Tipton favors, “would fix our country’s immigration system. Congressman Tipton has shared with House leadership the many ideas and opinions on immigration reform that he has heard from constituents during town halls and meetings this year and is hopeful that Congress will be able to advance a reform solution that is fair, practical and compassionate," his statement read.
For more information on the Hispanic Affairs Project, visit www.hapgj.org, or call 970/249-4115.