BANGOR, Maine — Representatives from Maine organizations in favor of immigration reform marched Thursday to the district offices of U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, requesting meetings during the coming Presidents Day break in order to discuss federal immigration policy.
“We feel that fair and just immigration reform actually helps everyone,” said Blanca Santiago, executive director of the Portland-based group Centro Latino, speaking at a pre-march gathering at St. John Catholic Church on York Street.
“Centro Latino has been working … to help bring about a groundswell of support, and we really need the support of ordinary people,” she said. “The right has often said that, well, we just need to take care of the people here in this country. But the fact of the matter is that we all are here in this country, together.”
Marchers presented letters to the senators requesting meetings to discuss the effects of federal policy, the senators’ thoughts on the issue, and ways to find bipartisan solutions in the U.S. Senate.
“We are calling on the Congress and president to pass comprehensive immigration reform legislation this year,” said Ben Chin, federal issue organizer of the Maine People’s Alliance, which organized Thursday’s event. “We think we have waited long enough, and now is the time.”
The letters to Snowe and Collins were signed by seven people, including Bishop Richard Malone of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland; Ed Flanagan, CEO of blueberry grower Jasper Wyman & Son of Milbridge; University of Maine System Chancellor Richard Pattenaude; and Westbrook Chief of Police William Baker.
Santiago said undocumented workers are subject to raids and long separations from families while immigration status is worked out in the legal system.
“The raids terrorize families, and they actually devastate economically many communities all across our nation [which] are affected greatly by the loss of the workers that results,” Santiago said. “The town sees a death in its economy, and the place itself does not do very well when those workers are gone.”
During Thursday’s gathering, Anais Tomezsko of Mano en Mano (Hand in Hand), a Milbridge organization that seeks to build relationships between residents and the immigrant community, read a letter from an anonymous undocumented worker in Washington County, where many immigrants work in agriculture.
“We ask you to accept immigration reform in order to obtain greater social welfare for our families. … We are working people. We are not criminals. We consent that we violate some of your laws, but we did it because of necessity.”
State Sen. David R. Hastings III, a Fryeburg Republican who serves on the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee, said in a phone interview Thursday that he does not believe in closed borders and that there are some businesses in his district that use seasonal workers.
“I do not justify mistreatment of undocumented workers at all,” he said. “The core problem is we need to be sure those noncitizens in this country are here legally. Once they’re here legally I feel they’re entitled to all the employment protections that the rest of America is entitled to. I have no sympathy for the employer who takes advantage of the undocumented immigrant.”
The Rev. Seamus Griesbach said at the York Street event that St. John Catholic Church recently held its first Spanish-language Mass. He said the parish and the diocese are interested in making sure the growing community of immigrant workers in the Bangor area and the rest of the state is not forgotten.
“Certainly it’s not just a matter of prayer or of what we can do in the church walls, but also of public policy,” Griesbach said. “The church really does believe and insist that there needs to be serious thought into how we are treating those people.”