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Locals get primer on immigration rights

Phil Wright

East Oregonian

Published on February 5, 2018 7:33PM

Jesse Roa

Jesse Roa

Do Dreamers have to worry about deportation from the United States? Do undocumented immigrants have constitutional rights?

Members of the Walla Walla Immigration Rights Coalition answered those and other tricky questions Saturday at a forum in Hermiston. Abigail Scholar said the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals only “de-prioritizes people for deportation,” but does not free Dreamers from deportation.

In simple terms, she said, individuals participating in DACA are not at the top of the deportation list, but they remain on the list.

She and fellow coalition member Eugenio Rojas also said due process remains a constitutional right for undocumented immigrants. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement too often tramples on due process when it rounds up people for deportation, they said, and that’s a constitutional violation.

Scholar added being in the U.S. illegally is a civil violation, not a criminal one.

More than 30 locals — some white, most Latino — gathered for the three-hour forum at the St. John’s Episcopal Church. Jesse Roa with the Tri-Cities Immigrant Coalition organized the event. He said he grew up in Hermiston, where the immigrant community can feel isolated and plenty of its members feel fear, which in part drives people to these events. He said similar communities exist from La Grande to the Tri-Cities in Washington, and these gatherings are about unifying people and urging them to action.

“We are a community,” he told the crowd. “Maybe it’s time to start acting like it.”

Kenzie Spooner with the Walla Walla group said the notion that people can’t do anything is the misconception she most wanted to dispel. She said she started coming to meetings to learn more, and now she is a member of the group and can contribute.

“In fact, there is a lot everyone can do,” she said.

Kathleen Cathey helped drive home that point. She is the Eastern Oregon representative for Democratic U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden. Cathey said Wyden was in Hermiston in 2013 for a town hall meeting, and members of Hermiston’s Hispanic Advisory Committee and local Latinos packed the place. All those bodies shifted the conversation to immigration reform, which remains one of the senator’s top priorities.

She encouraged participants to mobilize likewise and have their friends and family speak up at Wyden’s open town halls in Oregon, including the one Sunday in Hillsboro. She said that kind of action moves the conversation forward.

The Rev. Juli Reinholz of Pioneer United Methodist Church of Walla Walla was on hand. She said these forums are worth attending for the educational benefit alone.

Rojas at the end of the Walla Walla coalition’s presentation said people from all walks of life make up the United States, and whether someone arrived yesterday or has had family here for hundreds of years or more, the county is great already.

People need to know that, he said.


Contact Phil Wright at pwright@eastoregonian.com or 541-966-0833.


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