Maria Lerma is a seventh-generation American on her father’s side. Her mother was deported at the age of 12 in the middle of the night from Eldorado, Kansas back to Mexico.
When her mother made her way back to the United States, she opened a restaurant in a small town in Nebraska in the 1960’s. When migrant farmers ventured to Nebraska, Lermas’ mother would help them find room and board. Sometimes she housed and feed them herself if there was no alternative.
Partly because of her mother’s generous work, Lerma does not understand why immigrants are not able to stay in the United States when many of them have already created a life here.
“It’s for the best, not for the worst. I don’t know what they are thinking, if there will be too much Spanish or if minorities will become majorities. They are good for the economy, good for the United States because they are honest, hard-working people that really want to make a life here. And they are needed here,” Lerma said.
The ongoing debate over immigration is creating racism and “making people be thought of as less than human,” says Lerma. She says that she has been pulled over before and had her passengers asked for identification because they looked Hispanic. She also said that sometimes she gets dirty looks from people on the streets.
“I wish I had good solutions, but I don’t. I just know that it is wrong and needs to be fixed. If you try you can work something out. I think that prejudices are getting in the way of what is important,” said Lerma.
In an immigration panel on Wednesday night at the public library, Kim Bacer-Medina, an immigration attorney, and others discussed issues exactly like those Lerma and her family deal with.
Bacer- Medina spoke about comprehensive immigration reform, which includes border security, work visas, reducing the amount of people being taken from their families and providing a path to legalization.
Bacer-Medina also talked about reasons for people to immigrate, which could be anything from economic issues, such as poverty, to social or political issues, such as persecution or wars.
Lerma says that even legal immigrants live in fear of the laws because some are jailed if they are not able to present identification when they are asked.
“It’s like the law is saying it’s ok to be racist,” she said. “There are people living in hiding, children living in fear, and people being terrorized,” Bacer-Medina said.
There has, however, been progress in the Fort Collins community in the past year, Lerma said.
She said that more American citizens are backing them up now than were last year.
“That is encouraging to me, to see that people think it needs to be spoken about,” she said.
Bacer-Medina briefly discussed the legal progress, which she said is very minute. The Dream Act is pending, but if approved it would provide legal status to undocumented children who graduate high school. Even with this progress, comprehensive immigration reform may not be until 2009 or 2010, she said.
Lerma is studying to become an immigration paralegal so that she can aid immigration attorneys, like Bacer-Medina, in their support for immigrants. She is very proud of herself for going back to school, she said.
She says that her mother, who is her inspiration, would be very proud because she was always helping people. She also wants people to know that if she can do it, they can too, and not to get discouraged.
For more information about immigration issues visit www.cjpe.org or call (970) 419-8944.
Staff writer Cece Wildeman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.