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| Building an Immigrant Justice Initiative

Group in Allentown rallies for immigration reform

The Morning Call - April 6, 2013 - Whitehall Township resident Belkys Luvon doesn't expect all of America's undocumented immigrants to be granted U.S. citizenship overnight. That's not what she and other advocates of comprehensive reform of the country's immigration laws are lobbying for — or even what they'd want.

But Luvon, who said she came to the United States legally from the Dominican Republic 29 years ago, feels it only fair that undocumented immigrants be offered legal means of gaining citizenship.

Basically, what proponents call "a path to citizenship" should be for those who have lived here, abided by the law, worked hard, raised families and otherwise contributed to the well-being of countless communities, Luvon said.

She and other Lehigh Valley residents, as well as organizers from other areas, staged a public rally for immigration reform Saturday at Allentown's Cedar Creek Park. Only a few dozen people were on hand in the early going — the event got off to a late start — but support for the cause regionally, as well as nationally, is strong, according to Tony Perlstein of the Center for Popular Democracy inWashington, D.C., which supports reform.

In addition to the event in Allentown, "speak outs" for reform were scheduled in Norristown and other parts of Pennsylvania, and across the country, Perlstein said.

Luzon — who operates a consulting business helping immigrants attain citizenship, as well as with preparing income tax returns and starting businesses of their own — said she wants more people, regardless of status, to have the kind of opportunity granted to her.

"I consider myself lucky, thank God," she said, having followed her mother to America. "I believe it is fair, after living here and working hard" — and staying out of trouble with the law, she stressed — for people to have a path to citizenship as envisioned by PresidentBarack Obama, Luzon said.

Luzon objects to the term "illegal immigrants."

"No human being is illegal," she said.

Reform supporter Erika Sutherland, a Muhlenberg Collegeprofessor, said she hopes for a comprehensive package of reforms that streamlines existing programs for attaining citizenship and gives people a way to get on the path toward citizenship.

Among the goals, she said, is "an equitable comprehensive citizenship" for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants, the vast majority of whom are "people contributing to our community and [who] want nothing more than the ability to stay and work."

"We are a nation of immigrants," Sutherland concluded. "We can do better."

With a group of Republican and Democratic senators working on comprehensive reform, the Center for Popular Democracy expects tens of thousands of supporters at a demonstration Wednesday in Washington in favor of reform, Perlstein said.