NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—On June 23, more than 60 local residents attended a community discussion conducted in Spanish at the United Church of Christ regarding the hot topic of federal immigration reform. The grassroots included a question and answer period that lasted over an hour.
If passed into law, the current proposed immigration reform bill will impact a large portion of the New Brunswick community who are trying to obtain their United States citizenship. Issues such as family sponsorship, proof of work, and legal advice were discussed.
The meeting consisted of three speakers from different community groups. Marisol Conde-Hernandez, a leader in the DREAM Act coalition, spoke about legislation proposed in New Jersey that would allow undocumented immigrants to qualify for in-state college tuition at public universities like Rutgers.
Lucia Gomez, a representative from the Latino community organization La Fuente, and Mariem Casillas, the director of New Labor, spoke about the bill and how it will affect the community in general terms.
The new bill will require an application to become a "registered provisional immigrant" for a period of five years, then the person will get "temporary protected status" for five years. After a three-year waiting period, they will be able to apply for citizenship. If the process happens smoothly, immigrants will need to wait thirteen years in total to obtain US citizenship.
Many people in attendance were worried about meeting the numerous requirements to apply such as living above the poverty line, having steady employment as a worker on an official payroll, and having all the required papers. The community was urged to seek legal advice from an immigration lawyer before filling out any government paperwork.
New Labor, the New Brunswick worker's organization that sponsored this event, provides many services, such as connections to legal aid, to help guide non-citizens through the citizenship process.
Mariem Casillas, one of the speakers, called for community action and unity on the issue.
She said that events where people can learn about the legislation are important but "support from the community is needed to move forward. Members of the community" need to engage and inform themselves on the immigration bill, which was approved by the US Senate last week.
President Obama has pledged to sign the bill if it is approved by the House of Representatives.
Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate and a community organizer, and an independent candidate for Mayor of New Brunswick.