FORT WORTH — Douglas Interiano spent seven years waiting.
Waiting to become a U.S. citizen, waiting for immigration papers and waiting to leave El Salvador to join his parents, who lived in Fort Worth.
“I know it’s hard,” the Arlington man said of the immigration process. “And I was blessed, having parents who could [help] me. But there are thousands of people who don’t have any help, and they have been waiting years, maybe 20 to 25 years, for the same thing.”
Interiano, who became a U.S. citizen in 2003, is among hundreds of Texans — including dozens from North Texans — boarding buses today for Washington, D.C. On Sunday, they plan to join as many as 50,000 others from around the nation in the March For America: Change Takes Courage and Faith. It aims to draw attention to the need for immigration reform and ask Congress to address the contentious issue.
“It seems [Congress] is not doing the right thing,” said Interiano, president of the Coalition for Immigration Reform of DFW & North Texas. “They are not taking on immigration reform. We need to stop our family separations, deportations.”
President Barack Obama, who made a campaign promise to tackle immigration reform during his first year in office as he sought Hispanic support at the polls, said this month that he remains committed to fixing a system he believes is broken, even though nothing has moved forward yet.
Some say the heart of reform would be a way for 12 million undocumented people in the United States to live here legally, but citizenship wouldn’t be easy. Immigrants would have to register with the government, pay taxes, potentially pay a penalty for violating the law and wait for their turn to become legal.
The Rev. Owen Ross of Christ’s Foundry in Dallas is also going to the march.
“As a religious leader, I’m seeking to change the hearts of those who stand against immigrants and against a just immigration reform,” Ross said. “We are just seeking for those politicians … to fulfill promises.”
Some Hispanics say that they’ve been patient in waiting for immigration reform but that if they don’t see movement, they could stay at home in the 2010 and 2012 elections. That could be a blow for Democrats.
Critics have said letting illegal immigrants become citizens could be a lengthy process that could overwhelm existing services — from healthcare to roads — and could end up taking jobs away from current citizens.
They also remind elected officials pushing for reform bills that this is a volatile issue that could blow up, as past efforts have, leaving supporters in Congress with failed legislation and big political trouble.
“If they support these bills and they’re on the ballot in November, they’re goners,” William Gheen, president of Americans for Legal Immigration Political Action Committee, has declared.
The Rev. Stephen Jasso, pastor of All Saints Catholic Church on Fort Worth’s north side, will also be at Sunday’s march.
He said he wants to be a voice for those seeking citizenship who are too scared of deportation to ask for themselves.
“I feel that it’s the right thing to do at this time in the history of immigrants in our country,” Jasso said. “We need a very good immigration reform for the country. It is needed. We cannot carry this on longer.”
Jasso, whose congregation is largely made up of Mexican immigrants, said many people waiting to become U.S. citizens are good people who already are living here. Most already have jobs here, he said, and would not be taking jobs away from U.S. citizens.
But the fear of deportation has some children who were born here — and therefore are U.S. citizens — “living under stress, wondering when their mom or dad is going to be taken away from them.”
Jasso, who will be fasting Sunday for the cause, believes that faith and prayer will be key in bringing about immigration reform.
“I think we have the political will in Washington to do this,” he said. “They just have to come to their senses.”