A national campaign of fasting among day laborers, domestic workers and other immigrants in the country illegally has been rolling through American cities since May Day and arrives in Seattle on Monday.
Dozens of people — immigrant workers and their advocates — plan to break from food for a day or longer during the week to draw attention to the conditions of those living in the shadows of the nation’s economy.
They want the federal government to suspend deportations while Congress works on legislation that would create a path to legal status for an estimated 10 million people living in the U.S. illegally.
How that plays out is now up to the House of Representatives, after the Senate on Thursday passed an immigration overhaul that would beef up security along the Southern border while granting undocumented immigrants some form of legal status over 13 years.
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Among those closely watching how it unfolds is a 33-year-old Seattle mother of two young daughters who makes a living cleaning houses. She came to the country illegally five years ago and plans to participate in the national fast.
For her, it’s a way “for us to be heard and for them to provide a solution for us,” she said.
“Hopefully, it will be passed soon, and we will be able to get our papers and I’ll be able to get a better job to make a better life for my daughters.”
Conservatives in the House are skeptical at best and mostly opposed to any plan they say rewards undocumented immigrants — despite last-minute changes in the measure to further fortify the border.
House Republicans have scheduled a closed-door meeting for shortly after the Fourth of July vacation to take up the issue.
Leon Donahue, with a group called Washingtonians for Immigration Reform, said the Senate bill “puts amnesty first and border security maybe sometime in the future.”
“We are about the only country in the world that doesn’t enforce our border,” he said.
Donahue said the last time Congress passed a bill granting legal status to undocumented immigrants 27 years ago, “they promised no more illegal aliens. Now you’re hearing the same story.”
If Republicans in the House listen to the American people, he said, “this bill will not pass. And if the Republicans get 10 Latino votes out of this they will be very lucky.”
December 2011 cutoff
The Senate’s bill would allow those in the country illegally as of December 2011, who can pass a background check, to apply for registered provisional immigrant (RPI) status.
They wouldn’t be eligible to apply for legal permanent residency — a so-called green card — until after 10 years, but could apply for a Social Security number and could work and travel outside the U.S.
Their winding path toward legalization would be tied to a massive plan to boost border security, and they would be required to pay up to $2,000in application fees and a penalty for their illegal entry.
Hilary Stern is executive director of Casa Latina, a Seattle day-labor center that helps many undocumented immigrants find work. Casa Latina is a partner in the National Day Laborer Organizing Network that organized the national fast.
Stern said she has had to keep reminding workers that the immigration bill is not a done deal. “They want to know: How long before we can get our papers? We don’t even know if it’s going to pass.”
Despite the concerns immigrant advocates have about the bill, Stern said, “It’s better than the status quo for most people and worse for others” — particularly those who arrived here after December 2011.
For most people in the country illegally, the priority is to “get out of the shadows, get a work permit and not worry about losing their jobs. Things are so bad for them that would be a huge step up,” Stern said.
One big concern is that the Senate measure requires RPIs to remain consistently employed to continue down the path to legalization.
People worry that the possibility of losing their jobs could make them more vulnerable to exploitation by employers.
Stern herself is participating in the fast, which started on May Day in California and, like the wave at a ballpark, has rolled through states from Florida to Rhode Island, New Jersey and Oregon.
It will wrap up at the end of the month in Arizona.
The mother of two will fast Friday, saying she’s hopeful but concerned about what might happen if an immigration overhaul fails to pass.
“I’m very worried that I would be separated from my children,” she said.
“You hear on the news how they are deporting parents and the children are staying here.”
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
Lornet Turnbull: 206-464-2420 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @turnbullL.