Philly immigration activist applauds Senate idea for reform

Cesar Marroquin, 21, shows his tattoo: "Life, Liberty & the pursuit of those who threaten it."
Cesar Marroquin, 21, shows his tattoo: "Life, Liberty & the pursuit of those who threaten it." (CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer)
Posted: January 29, 2013

Among immigration-reform ideas presented Monday by a bipartisan group of senators, the one that drew the strongest support from local immigration activist Cesar Marroquin, 22, of Wyndmoor, is a path to citizenship for undocumented adults like his parents, Fredy and Vicenta.

The couple came from Peru to America on tourist visas a decade ago and never left. Fredy came first, to drive a taxi and do odd jobs in Paterson, N.J. Vicenta and their three young children joined him. In 2001, the family moved to Pennsylvania.

Experts say an estimated 40 percent of illegal immigrants overstay their visas.

For years, the movement to get legal status for youths like Cesar and his sisters Maria and Fernanda, who were younger than 16 when they arrived, has been growing. The siblings are well-known campaigners for the Dream Act, federal legislation, introduced in 2001 but never passed, that would grant legal residency to eligible youth but not their parents, who would still be vulnerable to deportation.

An executive order signed by President Obama last June granted temporary relief from deportation to the young immigrants.

The measures put forward Monday could make that protection permanent and extend relief to illegal-immigrant parents, too.

"While far from a perfect solution," said Marroquin, the senators' blueprint is "a big change" that gives a chance at citizenship to nearly all the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States.

"My parents brought me here for a reason - to succeed. I don't want them exiled," said Marroquin, who took some courses at Montgomery County Community College, dropped out for lack of money, and works for a company that stages houses for real estate sales.

When he was younger, he said, he had recurring nightmares in which immigration-enforcement agents raided his house and dragged away his parents.

"I was unable to get a lawyer or do anything about it," he said. "I used to have quite a few dreams like that, but not anymore."

Marroquin said he helped banish those bad dreams by publicly proclaiming himself "undocumented and unafraid."

Among the other principles crafted by the Senate lawmakers: tougher border security, including surveillance drones on the borders; better screening of worker eligibility through an electronic system called E-verify; and a system to track foreigners and enforce their departure from the country when their visas expire.

The Senate principles attempt to balance Republican demands for tougher enforcement and Democrats' insistence on a comprehensive bill that provides a pathway to citizenship for all 11 million illegal immigrants.

Under the terms of the five-page draft proposal, tougher enforcement measures have to take effect before any illegal immigrant seeking earned citizenship can get a green card.

While the agreement is a step forward, the details have yet to be worked out. Even if the Senate can agree on legislation, comprehensive reform could be in for a tough fight in the Republican-controlled House.

The president will endorse the Senate process during an event in Las Vegas on Tuesday, administration officials said. He will outline a similar vision for overhauling the nation's immigration laws, drawing on the immigration "blueprint" he released in 2011.

"There are some good things" in the Senate principles, said Marroquin, "but if they continue with the enforcement-first mentality, it's not really going to bring any change."


Contact Michael Matza at 215-854-2541, mmatza@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @MichaelMatza1.

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