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Immigrants And Advocates Urge National Leaders To Pass Reforms

MARK SPENCER

January 16, 2010

HARTFORD - The American Dream was repeatedly invoked by immigration advocates at the Legislative Office Building Friday who urged national leaders to reform what they called a broken system.

"We must reaffirm that the United States is a nation built on the strength of immigrants," said Talia Lopez of United Action of Connecticut.

Leaders said the event, which included city and state officials as well as immigrants, was one of about 100 events held around the country Friday to start a drive for federal immigration reform in 2010. The events were sponsored by Reform Immigration For America, a coalition of religious, business, labor and civil rights groups.

Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez said there are up to 200,000 undocumented immigrants in Connecticut according to some estimates, and many are denied the opportunity to fully participate in society, including contributing to economic growth.

"We need a path to legalization," Perez said.

Barro Kannah, a refugee from Liberia, has traveled a twisting path to get to the U.S. and is still hoping for his piece of the American Dream. After getting through a sentence or two of a prepared statement, he apologized that his nerves had gotten the best of him and he broke off his speech, rejoining other immigrants standing behind the podium in a hearing room. Those attending represented more than a dozen countries, including Indonesia, Peru, Somalia, Mexico, Ukraine, Poland, Dominican Republic and Jamaica.

But after the speeches were done, Kannah spoke about how his life was thrown into turmoil when both his parents were killed when he was 11 years old during Liberia's first civil war.

"I was on my own," Kannah said. "There was no one to help."

He fled to Ghana, where he stayed for two years before returning to Liberia just as a second civil war started. He lived in a refugee camp for a while in the Ivory Coast, where another civil war broke out.

At age 19, he came to Connecticut as a refugee. After living in several places in the U.S., he returned to Hartford about six months ago with his wife and three children, saying this is where he wants to stay.

"We as immigrants come together to make this city a better city," said Kannah, now 25.

Peter Goselin, of the National Lawyers Guild, said immigrants, particularly those without documents, are often forced to work for unscrupulous employers who pay them low wages, or nothing at all.

"Employers who obey the law are forced to lower wages so they can compete with these predators," Goselin said.

Goselin said immigration supporters differ on the specifics of what kind of reforms they want, but they all agree that deporting an estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants is impossible and against the best economic interests of the country.

"We must reaffirm that the United States is a nation built on the strength of immigrants." Talia Lopez, United Action of Connecticut

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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