EDITORIAL: The immigrant dream
There are people living in York who are afraid to leave their homes.
They're not afraid of violence on the streets. They're not worried that their homes will be broken into while they're gone. They're not scared that they will become ill while away from home.
They're afraid that they will be arrested simply because of who they are.
Elena Aguilar, owner of Variedades Latinas in York City, says she has customers who want to have food and goods delivered to their homes because they are afraid they will be arrested if they go outside.
"They said if they see a police officer, they think they are going to be arrested because they have no way to show they are legal here." Aguilar said.
Aguilar came to the United States from El Salvador as an undocumented immigrant. Soon after she arrived, she was told by a police officer that she wouldn't be here long.
That was 20 years ago.
Every 18 months, Aguilar pays $700 to renew her temporary status protection, which allows her to live in this country. But she will lose that status if she ever leaves the U.S., and she has no path to become a citizen.
On Monday, Aguilar joined about a dozen people in front of state Sen. Scott Wagner's office on North George Street to protest Wagner's stance on immigration. Wagner, R-Spring Garden Township, is a co-sponsor of PA Senate Bill 10, which would withhold state grants for law enforcement from any municipalities that do not follow protocol when an undocumented immigrant is detained, which includes notifying federal immigration authorities. The bill passed the Senate in February and has been forwarded to the House Judiciary Committee.
Aguilar and the others wanted everyone to realize that this country was built by immigrants, and the immigrant community strengthens the country every day.
"We want everybody to be treated as a human because we want respect too," Aguilar said.
The group is York was one of many around the state and the country marching on May Day for the rights of immigrants.
Since President Donald Trump took office in January, many in the immigrant community have spoken out about increased activity by Immigrants and Custom Enforcement and Customs and Border Patrol. Immigration raids that formerly targeted undocumented immigrants with criminal records now take away those without criminal records as well. Immigrants who for years, even decades, have regularly checked in with ICE and been allowed to remain in the country with their families find themselves taken into custody and deported.
There needs to be a way to turn an undocumented immigrant into a person with a path to stay in the country legally and eventually become a citizen.
Yes, undocumented immigrants have broken the law simply by coming into this country illegally or staying here past the time of their visa. Some have worked without the proper clearance; some area even criminals.
But the vast majority just want to work hard and provide for their families, both here and in their home countries.
"We are hard working," Aguilar said. "We don't come here to ask for nothing free. We want to do the best for the city and the community."
The best thing would be to provide a way for immigrants to make a place for themselves in their new country, confident that they can live their lives and enrich their communities without constant fear of being returned to a country that is no longer their home.
That's the true American dream.