Time for ideas on immigration, local activist says

Published: Monday, January 28, 2013 at 10:35 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 28, 2013 at 10:35 p.m.

Immigration reform isn't just an issue of social justice, it's one of moral importance, and the time to communicate ideas and gain support is now, a Gainesville activist said Monday night at a discussion hosted by the Interfaith Alliance for Immigrant Justice.

In light of the recent immigration legislation floating through Congress, Richard MacMaster, 77, and roughly 20 people gathered at the Emmanuel Mennonite Church at 1236 NW 18th Ave. to share their views on national and state level immigration reform, as well as the local immigrant and migrant farmworker justice movement.

"These were things that were off the table before," MacMaster said, referring to the attention immigration reform has received because of the nonpartisan bill four senators, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, drafted that calls for an increase in the number of visas available to high-skilled foreign workers, "and this is a historic moment. These are very exciting times."

Throughout the night, six activists addressed the small crowd.

They introduced their organizations' ideas, their work, their visions of what could be. They stressed the importance of vocalizing issues. Some asked for donations. Others asked for guidance. All asked for support.

Erin Conlin, a 33-year-old University of Florida graduate student, began with an introduction of immigration history. In Florida, they were viewed as "the invisible," she said. Plastic postcards showcasing Florida's glory as an up-and-coming agriculture power neglected one thing: the workers who made it happen.

Rommy Torrico, 23, strode out to the floor next. A representative from the Collier County Neighborhood Stories Project — an initiative dedicated to documenting immigrant detention and deportation — Torrico emphasized the necessity of undocumented immigrants understanding their rights.

"We're trying to launch this initiative into an organization," the UF graduate said. "We could use any and all help. We're selling posters for $7."

Candy Herrera, another UF graduate involved with the Interfaith Alliance for Immigrant Justice, brought up the issue of school tuition. She said she wants to fight to keep in-state residence status from being altered. Kids whose parents aren't documented citizens could be at risk.

"This is my home, spiritually," she said. "I want to continue this push."

MacMaster, whose wife, Eve MacMaster, is a pastor at the church, clutched his cane and shuffled to the front after the speakers finished.

"We hope you might be able to implement these ideas," he said. "Really, we wanted to get your ideas."

"You're talking about lives," he said. "How do you deal with something like that? We see horrible things happen. We see families split apart."

Sam Trickey, 72, felt this comment strike a personal chord.

"Ask them about family values," he said. "What kind of family value is it to do that kind of disruption?"

Trickey's been working in social justice for farm workers since the 1960s. He's a member of the National Farm Worker Ministry.

"We need a community," he continued. "If you have a community, take one and see what you can do.

"It's about the idea of getting these stories to people."

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