Several local community organizations have joined forces to create the Central New York Coalition for Immigration Reform. This group will push a comprehensive immigration reform agenda, with an emphasis towards towards family unity, an improved visa system, and a path to eventual citizenship for undocumented immigrants living in this country now. It's the only hope one undocumented immigrant who lives in Syracuse has of staying in this country.
Arely Tomas is from Guatamala. She found her way to Syracuse after being caught by immigration authorities in Arizona five years ago. She never turned up for a court date, so has lived since then in Syracuse with a deportation order over her head, taking care of her three U.S.-born children, two of whom attend Syracuse schools, while her husband, who has his own immigration issues, works. It all fell apart in January.
"They were driving to Ithaca, and the New York state trooper stopped them for an expired registration, and the New York state trooper, even though she wasn't doing anything and was a passenger, they questioned her and turned her over to immigration," said Rebecca Fuentes, who translates for Tomas, who doesn't speak English.
Fuentes, an immigration reform advocate, says Tomas isn't the only undocumented immigrant living in the shadows in Syracuse.
"I think it's hundreds of people in our community, and we're not even talking about farm workers and dairy workers. They are the backbone of our industry here," she said.
Advocates of this new Coalition for Immigration Reform will lobby for a comprehensive immigration reform plan, that focuses less on boarder patrols, and more on providing a path to citizenship for people like Tomas.
"We don't' need more enforcement of immigration and getting people in jail. That's not getting us anywhere. We really have to have comprehensive, humane reform that affirms dignity of the people," said Fuentes.
In the meantime, Tomas has another court date in May, and expects ultimately to be deported back to Guatamala, a country that she says is difficult to live in, because of poverty and violence. When that happens, though, is what she's thinking about now.
"One of the things that is very important for Arely and her family is that her two little children, who are in pre-k and first grade, she wants them to finish their school year. That's very, very important. The children love going to school."
Fuentes is spearheading a petition drive she hopes will convince a the government to at least delay that deportation until June.
And activists launching this coalition say Tomas' situation is far from uncommon. Ruth Beltran, of the League of Latin American Citizens, says immigration reform must focus on the family.
"We do not have the right to separate parents from their children. We do not have the right to separate families. As a mother, could you just imagine the pain of seeing your child being taken away to foster care?" Beltran asked.
Beltran says that happens in many cases where parents are undocumented, and children are U.S. citizens.