WASHINGTON (AP) – Little Katherine Figueroa sat in a grand room inside a Capitol Hill building pleading through tears to members of Congress: “Please tell President Obama to stop putting parents in jail, all they want is a better life for their kids.”
The 10-year-old girl sat with four women who, like her, told a handful of sympathetic Democratic members of Congress emotional stories of their encounters with immigration enforcement.
Katherine said her parents were arrested by deputies who work for Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. The arrests made it hard for her to go to school, she said.
“I would also have bad dreams where the Arpaio deputies would take my aunt, her family and me to jail,” Katherine said.
The testimony was delivered in a packed committee room in what organizers called an “ad-hoc hearing.” The partisan event was assembled by Arizona Democratic Rep. Raul Grijalva to pressure the Obama administration and Congress to overhaul immigration laws and to challenge Arizona’s tough new immigration law.
The law requires police enforcing other laws to check immigration status if they suspect someone is in the country illegally. It takes effect July 29 unless it is blocked by pending legal challenges.
“The law is a harbinger of things to come if this Congress does not act, if this administration doesn’t act,” Grijalva said.
Sylvia Herrera, a researcher with the Arizona community group Puente, said the group has received about five reports a day from people with complaints of racial discrimination since the law was signed.
Agencies are asking people for additional identification, workers are not being paid by employers and a blood bank refused to take the blood of people who only speak Spanish, Herrera said.
Some of the problems preceded the new law, but the law’s passage has “empowered” agency workers and others to discriminate, she said.
Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., laid some of the blame on President Barack Obama, who he said “we elected to bring justice to our community.”
Obama campaigned on a promise to address immigration reform in his first year in office. But it remains undone and chances for such legislation this election year appear dim.
Some Democrats and most Republicans in Congress oppose taking up immigration reform this year, and have renewed calls for “border security first.”
Colorado Rep. Jared Polis wiped his eyes when one of the witnesses, Silvia Rodriguez, 23, thanked him for calling her an American earlier in the hearing. She said it was the first time she had been called one.
“The only time that I felt to be the slightest happy, or accepted or proud by this country was when President Obama won his presidency,” she said. “For him to not step up and fulfill his promises, really, really breaks a lot of hearts.”