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Immigration reform advocates deliver apple pies, ask Illinois legislators to back citizenship act
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Immigration reform advocates deliver apple pies, ask Illinois legislators to back citizenship act

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SPRINGFIELD — Apple pies and containers of prepared rice and beans were hand delivered to the Springfield offices of U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth and Congressman Darin LaHood early Friday afternoon ahead of Independence Day.

In coming together downtown to drop off the food, a diverse group wanted to send a message as it asked the legislators to support the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021.

"We're here to support the immigration reform," said Maria Sorto, who is from Honduras and has lived in Springfield with her family since 1994. "It is something that is needed and is beneficial — not only for immigrants, but for the whole country."

The U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, which was formally introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in February after being proposed by President Joe Biden on his first day in office, would provide a path to citizenship for much of the undocumented population.

Immigrants make up 13.9% of Illinois' population, according to data from the 2019 American Community Survey. Of the more than 1.76 million people living in Illinois who were born in other countries, 46.1% are noncitizens, based on that data.

"Living in fear is just not a good thing," said Areli Calderon, who took part in Friday's small gathering organized by the Faith Coalition for the Common Good. "I lived in fear a lot of the time growing up with my parents being undocumented."

Even though Calderon, 23, was born and raised in Waukegan, her mother immigrated from Belize, and her father came to the U.S. from Mexico. As a result, she and her three siblings often worried.

"We always were scared of what would happen to us if our parents were deported," said Calderon, who is a community health worker at SIU Medicine and graduate student at University of Illinois Springfield, where she is pursuing a master's degree in clinical mental health counseling. She earned a bachelor's in psychology from UIS. "We made the best of it.

"But I hope this bill can help to change that for the kids who are undocumented, or for their parents who are undocumented, so they don't have to live in fear and live in the shadows."

In the letter the group delivered to LaHood's office asking for the congressman's support, the Faith Coalition outlined eight points the bill would accomplish. Keeping families together, growing the economy, addressing the root cause of migration, prioritizing smart border controls and protecting workers from exploitation while improving the employment verification process were among them.

"It will give everyone living here in the United States an opportunity to go to school, work legally and also pay taxes," said Sorto, who first came to the U.S. in 1988 as an exchange student.

The group that gathered in Springfield Friday was not alone in its efforts. As an affiliate of the Gamaliel National Network — a grassroots faith-based organization that runs advocacy and nonpartisan civic engagement campaigns in 17 states and 44 regions — the Faith Coalition for the Common Good's delivering of apple pies along with rice and beans was part of a larger movement asking legislators to support the citizenship act.

Currently, the bill has 143 cosponsors — including 11 representing Illinois — in the House of Representatives. All of them are Democrats. An identical Senate bill introduced in February has 26 cosponsors — 25 Democrats and one Independent. Majority Whip Sen. Dick Durbin and Duckworth are among them.

Juneteenth is now a federal holiday.It marks the day enslaved Black people in Texas learned they were free after the Civil War.President Biden signed the bill into law at a ceremony attended by activists and members of Congress. He and Vice President Kamala Harris spoke about the importance of history and the push for justice."We must learn from our history and we must teach our children our history because it is part of  our history as a nation, it is part of American history.""The emancipation of enslaved black Americans didn't mark the end of America's word to work on the promise of equality; it only marked the beginning. To honor the true meaning of Juneteenth, we have to continue toward that promise because we've not gotten there yet."The president says protecting the right to vote is a key part of that promise.

"Immigrants are doctors, teachers, students, essential workers and servicemembers —they're vibrant parts of our American society and, unfortunately, our broken immigration system has failed many of them for far too long," said Duckworth in an official statement supporting the legislation.

Both Democratic and Republican leaders have said such a sweeping proposal is unlikely to gain bipartisan support.

However, Vincent Makolo, who immigrated from the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2008 and became a U.S. citizen in 2017, made the hour-long trip from Beardstown to be part of Friday's local efforts.

"It's nice to be able to be part of the people who are supporting the immigrant communities now — whether that's with being documented, with transportation, with food or with health services that they need," Calderon explained. "All of that is very scary to reach out for as an immigrant, especially when you're speaking to authority figures. That's why it really is like we're living in the shadows."

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