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Allentown City Council takes a stand for U.S. immigration reform

By Randy Kraft, WFMZ.com Reporter, RKraft@wfmz.com
Published On: Mar 20 2014 08:42:28 AM CDT
Allentown City Council 3-19-14
ALLENTOWN, Pa. -

Allentown City Council took a symbolic stand in support of comprehensive U.S. immigration reform Wednesday night.

The seven-member council unanimously passed a resolution recommending "federal enactment of rational solutions to fix our broken immigration system."

The resolution states that an estimated 11 million to 14 million immigrants "contribute to our communities, the economy and the country
- yet are denied essential rights."

Saying comprehensive immigration reform is urgently needed and widely supported, council said such reform will .keep families together, recognize the harm caused by deportations and "respect the rights of all persons regardless of where they come from."

Council's action was commended by Rafael Collazo of the National Council of La Raza, which calls itself the nation's largest Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization.

"I'm really proud to be here today," said Collazo. "The National Council of La Raza really thanks you for your leadership."

The resolution was introduced by council president Julio Guridy.

"Unfortunately, the immigration process in the United States is broken," said Guridy.

"We desperately need a comprehensive immigration bill. But the federal government has failed to enact one for the last 10 years."

The approved resolution will be sent to both federal and state legislators who represent Allentown.

"It's long overdue," said Guridy of the resolution. "We've been trying to pass a resolution like this for quite some time."

He said similar resolutions have been passed in many other places.

"This is not just something we made up out of nothing," said Guridy.
"It's a movement that's going on throughout the country, in many cities.

"We want to show the world that we are a progressive city and that we want the best for our citizens."

Council member Peter Schweyer thanked Guridy for bringing the resolution forward.

Council member Cynthia Mota, who was born in Dominican Republican, said she came to Allentown when she was eight years old.

"I was undocumented for many years," said Mota. "Thank God, at the age of 16, I became legal, thanks to my father."

But she indicated the ingrained fear of being deported still makes her feel uncomfortable when she sees police.

"It is a horrible feeling to live in the darkness and to live in fear," said Mota. "So I do support immigration reform 100 percent."

Guridy said nearly 45 percent of Allentown's residents are Hispanic, "but it's not only about Hispanics. It's about the diverse community that we have here. We have a large Syrian community, a large Chinese community, Vietnamese, Korean - and they are all contributing members of our society."

He added about 29 different languages are spoken by students attending Allentown School District.

Guridy said the lack of immigration reform is forcing million of people to "live in the shadows" even though they pay taxes and are providing economic support to the country.

The resolution maintains immigration reform will promote economic growth.

It also calls for equal access to all levels of education. It recommends enactment of the Dream Act, which gives young people who grew up in the United States and graduated from high school the opportunity to become citizens if they go to college or serve in the U.S. military.

Council's resolution also states: "Immigration reform should protect the right of all families to stay together, regardless of immigration status, family structure, sexual orientation, gender identity or martial status."

Residents weigh in

"This is a great recommendation, but it's only that, it's a recommendation," city resident Armando Jimenez told council. "The government is broken. Most likely immigration reform won't pass.
Republicans and Democrats can't seem to work together."

Jimenez asked council if anything can be done locally, such as issuing identification cards or drivers licenses. Guridy said drivers licenses would be a state issue, but Jimenez said other cities issue local IDs.

Schweyer doesn't know if cities the size of Allentown have the ability "to pass our own IDs," but doesn't believe they do. "I know we don't have the right to pass our own driver's licenses."

Schweyer asked City Clerk Michael Hanlon to look into that legal question.

Guridy said the only thing that can be done locally is making sure city police are trained to not follow recommendations of U.S.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The resolution recommends rejecting immigration detainer agreements between local police and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

It also recommends "full and free communication between police and all members of the community, regardless of English language ability."

City resident Fernando Vazquez claimed some city police officers still are doing racial profiling. He said on Tuesday police stopped a car with four occupants, all people who work in the city and had committed no crime.

Vazquez said on another occasion a friend who was a passenger in a car involved in an accident was deported, though he also had committed no crime.

Vazquez said people should not have to fear the police and what the city is going to do to them.

Guridy said Allentown is not a perfect city, but is working to make things like racial profiling disappear.

Council's resolution declares Congressional inaction has created an immigration system that consists of "a dizzying array of policies and procedures."

Said Guridy: "It is our responsibility as citizens to at least say to our U.S. senators and our Congressman that we want this bill passed."

Copies of the resolution will be sent to U.S. Senators Robert Casey and Patrick Toomey, who represent Pennsylvania, and to U.S. Rep.
Charlie Dent, who represents the Lehigh Valley area.

Copies also will go to state Sen. Pat Brown and state Reps. Mike Schlossberg and Steve Samuelson, whose legislative districts include Allentown.

Guridy indicated state government also can take steps to spur immigration reforms.

Other business

Also during the meeting, council:

*Approved appointing one of its members to the Allentown-Lehigh County Commission to End Chronic Homelessness. Guridy immediately appointed Jeanette Eichenwald to serve on that commission, which will meet Monday.

Last week, the nine-member Lehigh County commissioners passed a similar resolution, allowing their president to also appoint one of them to the commission.

*Approved establishing a $500 penalty for the unauthorized removal of any official notice or placard placed on a property by a city official, "including but not limited to a notice posting a property as uninhabitable or being an illegal unit."

*Agreed to accept $575,000 in federal funds for safety improvements that will be made to Basin Street in the city.