WASHINGTON — More than 80 Arkansas residents joined thousands of others Wednesday on the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol to urge Congress to pass immigration reform this year.
"I grew up surrounded by hard working immigrants and I know how desperate the need is, especially for keeping families of mixed status together," said Michel Rangel, a 19-year-old student at the University of Arkansas in Fort Smith.
Rangel, a volunteer with the Arkansas United Community Coalition, was born in Mexico and came to the United States as a child. Her parents are not U.S. citizens, leaving her residency status here in question.
Three weeks ago, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security granted her a two-year reprieve from deportation as part of an Obama administration policy change to grant deferrals to so-called Dream Act children who meet certain criteria.
"I’m a former Dreamer," she said.
L. Mireya Reith, executive director of AUCC, organized the state contingent to the rally. Prior to the rally, the group visited with all six members of the Arkansas congressional delegation.
The rally comes as a bipartisan "Gang of 8" senators indicated agreement on an immigration reform accord that would provide permanent legal residency to an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants. The plan would require strict border security and that all employers use the federal E-Verify system to screen for illegal workers, according to the Wall Street Journal.
As yet, none of the Arkansas delegation members have embraced the plan, saying they will wait to see the legislation before making such a decision.
"I need to see this proposal on paper," said Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark. "The eight senators are working very hard and I told them I’m cheering you on."
"I wish I could tell you what is in the bill," said Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., who said his support, or opposition, would depend on a number of factors, including border security.
Reith walked away from the meetings with some optimism.
"All of them are very willing to keep the door open to conversations when the bill does come out," she said.
Rangel felt the same way.
"All of them said they need to take a good look at it," she said. "And, Rep. Womack said he is sensitive to the case of Dreamers and hopes it is a part of the bill."
The Arkansas group included families from Dardanelle, De Queen, Dumas, Fayetteville, Fort Smith, Jonesboro, Little Rock, Rogers and Springdale.
Among them was Arturo Reyes, who has owned the Acambaro Mexican Restaurant in Rogers for 16 years.
Reyes is facing deportation this month. Reith reached out to Boozman for help in allowing Reyes to remain in Rogers.
"He might be deported next week, leaving his citizen child behind," she said, pointing to four-year-old Jesus, whom Reyes held in his arms.
Boozman took down some notes on the case and said he would ask his staff to see what could be done.