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Monday, December 4, 2023

Faith and labor leaders rally for immigration reform

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Chanting slogans and cheering speakers, more than 100 marchers participated in a rally in downtown Indianapolis in support of immigration law reform that would provide a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants living in the U.S.

The rally was sponsored by multiple faith and labor organizations, including the AFL-CIO and the Indianapolis Congregation Action Network. Prominent civil rights organizations like the NAACP and the Urban League are also vocal supporters of immigration reform, pointing out that many immigrants to the U.S. come from Africa. Rev. Melvin Jackson spoke at the Indianapolis rally, and told the crowd that there are close parallels between the struggle for immigration reform and the civil rights movement. “I grew up in the segregated deep South, and we too worked for lower wages and were blocked from the rights of citizenship,” 83-year-old Jackson said. “Discrimination was wrong then, and it is wrong now.”

The crowd waved signs and sang out refrains like, “We are all Americans! Todos somos Americanos!” Their movement has an impressive base of local support. A recent poll from the Public Religion Research Institute showed that two-thirds of Hoosiers believe undocumented immigrants should be provided a path toward legal citizenship.

Powerful Indiana organizations including Eli Lilly and Co., the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis, and the Indiana Chamber of Commerce support the planned legislation, along with the state’s top labor leaders.

One of the rally’s speakers was Lupe Pimentel, who grew up in Indianapolis and attended Pike Township schools. Now 20 years old, Pimentel is a student at Ivy Tech, an active community volunteer, and has a wide circle of friends. But her life is far different from the lives most of those friends lead.

Pimentel cannot drive a vehicle or work at a paying job. She can only afford to take a class or two at a time because her college tuition is three times what her friends pay. Her grandmother is ailing in Mexico, but Pimentel cannot visit her.

Pimentel’s parents brought her to Indianapolis from Veracruz, Mexico, when she was just 6 years old. Pimentel found out she was an undocumented immigrant when she was in the eighth grade. While completing an application for a scholarship program, Pimentel discovered she did not have a Social Security number to include on the form. That scholarship became the first of many opportunities closed off to her.

“But hopefully, that will be changing, sooner than later,” she says.

Pimentel would like to get a degree in education and become a teacher of elementary students. Her hope is that events like the recent rally downtown will provide material for future civic lessons.

“The community is here, and the community has spoken,” Pimentel said, pointing to the clergy and the labor union leaders lined up to speak, and listing the prominent businesses who support the reform. She called on Indiana U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly to back immigration law reform.

On Tuesday, Donnelly responded: “The Senate has started a multiple week debate on bipartisan immigration reform legislation. I am in the process of reviewing the legislation, and I will be carefully studying the many amendments that will be offered.”

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