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| Building an Immigrant Justice Initiative

Immigration reform advocates rally in Lehigh Valley before heading to Washington, D.C.

Lehigh Valley Live - April 10, 2013 - Waving American flags and carrying handmade signs, Lehigh Valley residents and workers rallied for immigration reform this morning in Salisbury Township. Speaking in Spanish, about 40 people chanted "What do we want? Justice! When? Now!" and shared stories of their experiences as undocumented immigrants living and working in the region.

The Lehigh Valley Campaign for Citizenship demonstration outside U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey's office included representatives from local labor unions and kicked off the group's bus trip to Washington, D.C. There, they'll meet with Pennsylvania's Congressional legislators -- Sens. Toomey, R-Pa.,  and Bob Casey, D-Pa., plus U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent, a Republican whose district includes parts of Northampton and Lehigh counties. They'll join thousands of other immigration reform advocates in a march on the Capitol.

A clear, short path to citizenship, the preservation of families, the protection of workers' rights and the rejection of measures that would increase deportation are all key components of comprehensive immigration reform, according to Max Cohen, a Center for Popular Democracy spokesman who helped organize today's event.

When Jasmine Leonor's father, Reyes Leonor, was arrested on unspecified charges, jailed and targeted for deportation to Mexico, she, her mother and siblings were left in limbo, the 16-year-old Liberty High School student said.

They didn't know when or if Reyes Leonor would be allowed to return home to run his business, El Mariachi Mini Market in Bethlehem, she said. The teen fought back tears as she described her family's fears during that time and their continued frustration with the system that led to his detainment.

Reyes Leonor avoided deportation and is back home, but said the experience motivated him to join the fight for immigration reform. He spoke passionately about how important it is for immigrants and others to step up and join this cause.

"I was able to do it. Everyone needs to fight for their rights. Everyone needs to fight to stay here," Reyes Leonor said. "We have to fight to get what we get. We have to fight like warriors."

The nation's current immigration policy puts an unnecessary strain on families and wastes money on the deportation of people who are hardworking, law-abiding and looking for their slice of the American dream, demonstrators said. The messages on some of their signs -- "Keep Families Together: Immigration Reform Now" and "Stop Deportation, Stop Separation" -- highlighted that point.

Tatiana Tooley, a U.S.-born Allentown resident whose parents emigrated from Panama, said, "I cry for the families that don't have family unity" because of deportation.

Dennis Hower, president of Teamsters Local 773, said immigration reform would protect all laborers from exploitation by unscrupulous employers. When undocumented immigrants are underpaid, paid off the books or forced to work excessive hours, it undermines the rights of everyone in the workplace, he said.

"For us, it's a matter of fairness and doing what's right for all workers," said Hower, who is a Whitehall Township commissioner.