Pa. groups join to help shape immigration policy changes

    Immigration reform has been in the news since President Barack Obama’s address last week and Pennsylvania groups plan on helping to shape the national debate.

    Pennsylvania United for Immigration Reform launched a campaign Wednesday that brings together many of the immigration reform groups of Philadelphia and the surrounding area.

    Natasha Kelemen, executive director of the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition, says the more groups working together, the greater the impact they will have on shaping legislation to create a pathway toward citizenship.

    “And that pathway must be a very clear process. It mustn’t be a decades-long process, it musn’t be insurmountable for certain immigrants,” she said. “And so that’s at the core of our demands.”

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    The executive director of Juntos, a Latino community activist group based in Philadelphia,  says the Obama administration’s deportation policy also must be part of the national conversation.

    “There’s no conversation about stopping unjust deportations,” said Erika Almiron. “This administration has had the most deportations this country’s ever seen — 400,000 a year, averaging 400,000 families being separated.”

    Olivia Vazquez, a youth leader from Juntos, says her experience growing up as an illegal immigrant inspired her to become an activist.

    “When I started to organize, I did it because of me, because it was something that was affecting me,” she said. “But as time passed by, I realized that I wasn’t the only one. There are millions just like me who live in fear.”

    Prudence Powell was brought to the country from Jamaica when she was just 12 years old, not realizing that she would not have the same opportunities as an American citizen.

    “The moment I found out I was illegal, it was pretty depressing, because I knew I wasn’t going to be able to go to college or to get a driver’s license or provide for my future family,” Powell said.

    Pennsylvania United for Immigration Reform is encouraged by the bipartisan effort in Congress and hopes to see Congress implement a path to citizenship.

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