Activists plead for Perry's support in immigration battles

Jason Addy
York Dispatch

As President Donald Trump rolled out plans to place new limits on legal immigration, immigrants and activists from around York County stood outside U.S. Rep. Scott Perry’s district office, pleading for him to stand up for them.

Trump is planning to work with two Republican senators on legislation that would implement an immigration system based on merit and jobs skills instead of family connections.

Sen. David Perdue, of Georgia, and Sen. Tom Cotton, of Arkansas, introduced the legislation in February that would change the 1965 law to reduce the number of legal immigrants, limiting the number of people allowed to obtain green cards to join families already in the United States.

Activists and children gather outside Rep. Scott Perry's office in Springettsbury Township, calling for him to represent them as new immigration policies are introduced. Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2017. Jason Addy photo.

Standing outside Perry’s office in Springettsbury Township on Wednesday, Aug. 3, Elizabeth Alex, regional director for CASA In Action, denounced Trump’s plans to increase immigration enforcement and slash the number of refugees allowed into the country in half.

More:SPECIAL REPORT: York farmers navigate immigration law

The senators’ legislation also aims to eliminate a program that provides visas to countries with low rates of immigration.

These diversity visas “were put in place specifically to fix exactly how warped and racist our existing immigration system was,” Alex said, while more than a dozen immigrants and activists held signs reading “Keep families together” and “Immigrants are not criminals” next to the sign for Perry’s office.

Dividing families: Using Alex as an interpreter, Anayeli, a York City mother of three, spoke about how her family’s sense of security has been shattered since her husband was detained three months ago.

“I’m afraid to go out of my house because I know so many people that have been detained or deported. When I go to the store, I’m trembling from head to foot,” Anayeli said through Alex. 

More:OPED: Immigrants enhance our community

“My three kids came home every day from school wondering if (their) dad was home yet,” Anayeli continued.

Anayeli, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, declined to give her last name out of fear of being identified by immigration authorities. She is in the process of gaining legal status, Alex said.

Her husband is due in court in two months, but Anayeli said she fears he will be arrested and deported when he shows up.

Anayeli said she is working with CASA to get elected officials’ attention about her husband’s case and to demonstrate that he is not a criminal.

“Right now we’re praying every day that he can stay here with us and not be deported,” Anayeli said through Alex. “I want him to be with our children to watch them grow up.”

Anayeli lives in Perry's district and has three children in the local school system, Alex said. 

"If it's not his job to represent them, whose is it?" she asked.

'An awful travesty': Carol Stowell, of Paradise Township, said Trump’s overall stance on immigration is racist fear mongering, with racist language turning immigrants into political pawns. Stowell said she volunteers at York County Prison, which has a large immigrant-detention center.

After numerous efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act failed, Stowell said, she is not surprised Trump and the Republican Party are prioritizing immigration policies.

“They’re simply feeding their base,” Stowell said. "It's not only an awful travesty and cruel, but it doesn't make sense financially."

‘New immigration system’: Trump appeared with Perdue and Cotton at the White House on Wednesday, Aug. 3, to discuss the bill. The president said at an Ohio rally last month that he was working with the conservative senators to “create a new immigration system for America.”

Trump has made cracking down on illegal immigration a hallmark of his administration and has tried to slash federal grants for cities that refuse to comply with federal efforts to detain and deport those living in the country illegally.

His involvement will put him at the center of efforts to make changes to the legal immigration system. Previewing the event, White House officials said the bill would aim to create a skills-based immigration system to make the U.S. more competitive, raise wages and create jobs.

The White House said that only 1 in 15 immigrants comes to the U.S. because of their skills, and the current system fails to place a priority on highly skilled immigrants.

Trump’s appearance was aimed at bringing attention to the bill, which has been largely ignored in the Senate, with no other lawmaker signing on as a co-sponsor. GOP leaders have showed no inclination to vote on immigration this year.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.