Elizabeth Ruiz knows the pain of being ripped from her family. Before the Mexican native obtained legal status in the United States, she was arrested for immigration violations and taken to a detention center in Tacoma.
There, she and other women from countries such as India, Korea and Germany broke down in tears after phone calls with their children, Ruiz recalled.
“I don’t want any mother to go through what I went through, going to jail,” Ruiz said Tuesday evening at an immigrants rights rally in Vancouver. “One day, my husband knew nothing of me.”
Ruiz obtained legal status about a year ago and lives in Vancouver with her family. Before then, she lived in fear of being deported, and scraped by without stable employment, benefits or many comforts U.S. citizens take for granted.
“We didn’t have any more aspirations,” she told the crowd of about 40, her Spanish translated by an English interpreter. “We knew we couldn’t do anything because we didn’t have papers.”
Ruiz’s story was one of several shared in a bus-tour kickoff at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Vancouver. Other participants called for compassion for immigrant families, who want a better life for their children and who often survive by working jobs that pay less than minimum wage.
Vancouver was the first stop on the “Keeping Washington Families Together” bus tour, sponsored by the immigration reform advocate group OneAmerica. The bus tour heads to Seattle today, then Wenatchee, Yakima, the Tri-Cities and Walla Walla.
Earlier Tuesday, representatives of OneAmerica met with officials from U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler’s Vancouver office. OneAmerica Organizing Director David Ayala-Zamora said the Camas Republican, a member of the House Republican’s Congressional Hispanic Conference, seemed noncommittal on any specific immigration reform policy.
Her office said she is waiting to see what policies come out before taking positions on them, Ayala-Zamora said. He said that while he applauds her recent vote to cover immigrants under the federal Violence Against Women Act, he had hoped she would speak more specifically about her values when it comes to immigration.
“Let’s talk about principles,” he said.
OneAmerica, the largest immigration advocacy group in the state, fights for increased pathways to citizenship for immigrants living in the country illegally, ways to quickly process a backlog of citizenship requests, and programs that help integrate immigrants into American culture and teach them English. The group also advocates for increasing civil rights for immigrants, prosecuting employers who exploit immigrant labor, and giving border communities a seat at the table during talks about securing the nation’s borders.
Meanwhile Tuesday, a coalition of more than 40 agriculture, business and faith entities from around the state put forward a compact in support of immigration reform. Compacts in Arizona, Texas, Iowa, Colorado and Utah have made similar commitments to promote comprehensive immigration reform values.
The Washington compact, with support from the Washington Association of Business, the Washington Growers League and the King County sheriff, calls for law enforcement to focus on criminal activities rather than civil violations of federal codes, such as immigration violations.
The compact is slim on details, but its supporters say it should be harder for people to immigrate to the U.S. illegally and easier for them to immigrate legally.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.