Approximately 150 area residents put their voices together as one this week in Hermiston to send a message to a politician in Oregon who they say has not taken the hint that they are not going away.
Members of the Hispanic community, from recent immigrants to those with multi-generational ties to Oregon, chanted “Si Se Puede!” as they marched southbound on Highway 395 on Sunday to support immigration reform and to get the attention of Oregon’s U.S. Rep. Greg Walden. United Farm Workers Regional Director Pacific Northwest Jorge Antonio Valenzuela said Walden needs to hear their message.
“This march was about the dignity of the human soul,” Valenzuela said. “What we are asking is for Greg Walden to respect all the things that the Hispanic community does for his district. We are asking him to lead the fight for a path to citizenship. He is one of the highest-ranking Republicans in the House, and he has a lot of authority. If he wanted, he could come out tomorrow and support the people that marched here today and respect us and do what is right for the community.”
Roughly translated in English to “yes we can” or “yes it can be done,” “Si Se puede!” was popularized by labor leader and civil-rights activist Cesar Chavez in 1972. Chavez was one of the founders of the UFW, an organization that brought international attention to the plight of migrant farm workers and the issue of immigration in the United States. Marchers embraced this saying Sunday as part of their message to Walden, a Republican lawmaker who they say needs to hear them and support the immigration reform bill currently under review in the House of Representatives in Washington, D.C. Hermiston resident and Hispanic Advisory Committee member Eddie De La Cruz said the march and rally was a direct call for action to Walden.
“We hope that this catches the attention of Greg Walden,” De La Cruz said. “We need his support. He has denied quite a few invitations to meet with us and work together. This is a call to him: We are still around, we have a voice and we want you to listen and work for comprehensive immigration reform. We need to get the 11 million people that are here legalized and have a path to citizenship. These people have helped our economy nationwide, and they deserve to be legalized.”
De La Cruz and other local residents were joined in the effort by representatives of the AFL-CIO, UFW, Oregon Commission on Hispanic Affairs Chair Alberto Moreno and Ramon Ramirez, president of a Woodburn-based farm workers union, among others. Ramirez gave an especially energetic address to the crowd.
“We are really close to getting immigration reform,” Ramirez said. “The bill passed in the Senate and now we need action in the House. Representative Greg Walden can play a major role. He could make a difference. We want action now. He needs to come out publicly and support an immigration bill that legalizes 11 million people. The time is now.”
By a vote of 68-32, the U.S. Senate approved Senate Bill 744, known as the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 on July 27. The bill includes a path to citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants, a temporary worker program, a nationwide employment eligibility verification system and an increase in the number of visas available for skilled foreign workers. The bill will now be sent to the United States House of Representatives.
Andrew Malcolm, communications director for Rep. Walden, said Tuesday the Walden believes a full assessment is necessary before the bill can be taken to the floor of the House.
“Greg Walden believes that our immigration system is broken,” Malcolm said. “He believes it is a federal problem requiring a federal solution. Greg will not vote for a bill that he, his colleagues and the public have not had a chance to read and understand first.”
In response to criticism Rep. Walden has failed to acknowledge and respond to members of the Hispanic community from those who participated in the march and rally in Hermiston, Malcolm said Walden has met with many state residents on the issue of immigration reform.
“Both he and members of his staff have met with many Oregonians,” Malcolm said. “He welcomes input from all Oregonians.”