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Forum urges area Latinos to speak up and stay involved

Leader stresses importance of speaking out, civic engagement

POSTED: September 7, 2013 11:51 p.m.

The Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, in conjunction with Univision, held a forum Saturday in Gainesville to discuss immigration issues, dispel myths and encourage greater civic participation from the Latino community.

Mariela Romero, Community Affairs Director of Univision in Atlanta, facilitated the forum, which was conducted in Spanish.

Immigration attorney Charles Kuck, the first speaker, said “Our immigration laws are crazy; from a past century.”

Kuck said as long as U.S. immigration laws remain wildly outdated, there is little to no recourse for desperate immigrants in legal limbo.

“Congress is always seeking reasons to not do something,” he said. “But immigration reform continues to be important — this is an issue that is not going to disappear.”

The forum comes at a time of hope, anxiety and impatience for immigration reform advocates. It is an idea long discussed and touted as necessary on both sides, yet legislative progress has stalled. Issues from gun control to the Syrian conflict have pushed aside debate on comprehensive immigration reform.

About 50 people initially showed up Saturday, and as the forum went on, the crowd swelled, packing the event space at Flor de Jalisco.

The weight and the emotional aspect of the immigration debate was present in the room, from the tearful story of a woman who had lost her home’s breadwinner to detention for an immigration violation, to the groups of people bearing the words “Ser humano con voz poderoso” on their shirts — “Human being with a powerful voice.”

One man frustratingly said he had waited 18 years to get residency, even watching both his children achieve legal residency status.

Immigration reform would present a path to residency and citizenship, Kuck explained, though the proposed compromise is lengthy, expensive and strict.

He suggested to a woman one sure path to citizenship: marriage.

“Are you married? No? Find a husband. Or a wife. It no longer matters,” he said to laughter.

One of the takeaway messages of the forum was that unless they speak out, Latinos will not achieve the reforms they seek, a message that GALEO president Jerry Gonzalez most forcefully asserted.

“We need to raise our voice,” he said. “Immigrants have the right to raise their voice and the responsibility to raise their voice.”

Gonzalez called upon immigration advocates to contact Rep. Doug Collins, who represents Georgia’s 9th District in the U.S. House.

“We have to call him every day until we pass immigration reform,” he said. “If they don’t hear us, it will be very easy to vote ‘no.’”

He urged residents not to feel hesitant or that they lacked permission.

“Don’t be afraid to make those calls, because we pay taxes,” he said. “Hall County would not function without our community. This deserves respect.”

At the conclusion of the forum, Romero introduced two Latino candidates who had attended, and urged attendees eligible to vote to register.

“The voice of the Latino community is quite powerful. We have to exercise this power,” she said.

Gonzalez encouraged Latinos ineligible to vote to volunteer for campaigns and engage in other ways.

Romero said many Latinos are accustomed to a culture where governments are inaccessible and corrupt.

“It’s not like Latin America,” she said. “Here, whatever person can seek office — for the schools, for the city, for Congress.

“The purpose of this forum is to involve you more. In English, there is a beautiful word — ‘civic engagement.’ There isn’t an exact translation to Spanish, but what we ask is your involvement.”

An opportunity for large-scale civic engagement is coming soon, Gonzalez said. On Oct. 5, GALEO will be mobilizing participants for a nationwide day of events for immigration reform, called a “National Day of Dignity & Respect.”


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