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Local immigrants call on U.S. House to pass immigration bill

Jo Mannies | St. Louis Beacon | 2013

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon. - After 19 years in the United States, some of it as an undocumented Hispanic immigrant, Norma Andrade succeeded three weeks ago in completing the process to become a U.S. citizen.

Andrade says she now wants to help friends and family who haven’t been so fortunate – many of whom remain in the shadows in fear of deportation.

Yesenia Miranda, 11, also is a U.S. citizen – and she says she still relives the horror of watching her father, who is not, get arrested and deported back to Mexico in 2011.

On Monday, Andrade and Miranda were among more than a dozen local Hispanic residents – some documented, and some not – who joined pro-immigration activists at an event outside the Kirkwood train station.

The chief purpose was to call on U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin, to press for a House vote on the immigration bill that passed the Senate this spring, and which is supported by many pro-immigration groups.

The latest push comes as various polls indicate public support for an immigration bill that would make it easier for some of the roughly 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States to gain citizenship.

Wagner has been a target of local protests and pro-immigration events for months. “We believe that Ann Wagner is an influential member of the freshman (U.S. House) caucus,’’ said Vanessa Crawford Aragon, executive director for the Missouri Immigrant and Refugee Association, one of the sponsors of Monday’s event.

Aragon noted that Thursday is Thanksgiving, a traditional time for family gatherings in the United States. “Many of the people here will have empty chairs at their Thanksgiving tables because our laws don’t allow families to be together,” she said.

“It should be noted that we asked Congresswoman Wagner to join us today in calling on Speaker (John) Boehner to give immigration a vote before the end of the year,” Aragon said. “She declined.”

Later, the pro-immigration group revised their assertion. While an invitation was to have been delivered to Wagner's office in Washington, it was not. "We were under the impression that the letter was delivered but confirmed today that, inadvertently, it was not," a spokesman said late Monday afternoon.

In any case, a spokesman for Wagner said the congresswoman isn’t ignoring the issue.

"Congresswoman Wagner and her staff have had numerous meetings with various groups regarding immigration reform. In fact, Congresswoman Wagner has met with MIRA, members of ACLU, St. Louis Chamber of Commerce, Esperanza, Catholic Charities, and many other constituents, businesses and community leaders about this very topic,” her office said in a statement.

"Tackling immigration reform isn’t a race, it’s about getting it right and Congresswoman Wagner is committed to addressing this issue,’’ the statement continued. “However, she doesn’t want to repeat the mistakes of the past, much like when Democrats passed ObamaCare without even reading the bill.  The House of Representatives will take a more piecemeal approach that doesn’t result in last-minute deals and thousands of pages of complicated government bureaucracy that only make the problem worse."

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.