Rally voices frustration about immigration reform, Baird

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Adriana Cazorla brought daughter Leslie to Vancouver’s historic Parade Grounds Thursday to show support for families who have been torn apart as a result of current U.S. immigration policy.

Cazorla, 35, a longtime employee of Georgia-Pacific Corp., has been there. She was separated from her daughter in 2007 when she spent three months in immigration detention in Tacoma. Since then, she has obtained her green card.

“Now I live free,” she said. “I don’t have fear.”

Cazorla was among about three dozen people who rallied at the Fort Vancouver National Site to urge U.S. Rep. Brian Baird to support comprehensive immigration reform legislation during his final months in office. The event was organized by OneAmerica, a nonprofit organization that works to build political power within immigrant communities through voter registration and mobilization. In May, the organization sponsored a large march and rally in downtown Vancouver to support immigration reform and oppose Arizona’s controversial immigration law.

Immigration activist Rick Covington of Vancouver said he has tried repeatedly to get a meeting with Baird to ask him to co-sponsor legislation introduced by U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., which would enact comprehensive reform, including providing a path to citizenship for immigrants who are in the country illegally. The bill has102 sponsors, but Gutierrez admitted in June that it lacks enough backing to pass this year.

“As of today, Rep. Baird has not responded to any of our requests,” Covington said. “Today we are holding a town hall without Brian Baird. We will be telling our stories to an empty chair.” The small group chanted “Donde esta Baird?”

Baird was traveling in Afghanistan Thursday. His spokesman, Adam Hudson, said the Democratic congressman “believes (immigration) is an important issue, but it is up to House leadership to bring it up.”

Baird is a co-sponsor of the Secure America through Verification and Enforcement (SAVE) Act, which seeks to increase border security and requires companies to e-verify their employees’ legal right to work in the United States. Earlier this month, he voted for $600 million in emergency border security funding.

In 2006, during a re-election campaign, Baird voted to spend at least $2 billion on a 700-mile fence along the U.S.-Mexico border, a project he had opposed several times previously. At the time he called the fence “a critical first step” in securing the southern border, but added that the nation also must find practical ways to deal with an estimated 12 million immigrants who are in this country illegally.

Covington said Baird should not expect to avoid the immigration reform issue. “Numerous candidates are reluctant to take a stand on this issue “ in the run-up to the November election, he said, but Baird, as a retiring congressman, has no reason not to stand up for reform.

He recited a long list of what he called misconceptions about illegal immigrants, including that they take American jobs, drive down wages, don’t pay taxes and refuse to learn English.

“All of the above are lies used by the anti-immigrant community to intimidate us,” he said. “Don’t let them succeed!”

Eloisa Bolivar, who owns a cleaning service in Vancouver and serves as vice president of the Urban Entrepreneurs Network, said immigrant-owned businesses contribute a great deal to the community. She said she resents being “thrown into the bucket with drug dealers” in anti-immigrant rhetoric.

Cazorla, who broke down briefly while telling her story to the group, said that she, like many Mexican immigrants, came to the United States in search of a better life.

“In Mexico, the system is broken,” she said. “This is my dream country.”