ANTIOCH -- Saying that the current system is flawed and tears families apart, about 125 local residents from the faith-based community urged their local Congressional representative to support immigration reform legislation at an event this week.
Organized by local grass roots faith group Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization, or CCISCO, and the faith-based PICO National Network group, Wednesday night's meeting at Antioch's Holy Rosary Church's parish hall included information about immigration policy to date, remarks from U.S. Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton, real-life examples of deportation and the need for a pathway to citizenship.
Speaking in Spanish and choking back tears, Maria Moran of Brentwood told how her husband was detained following a traffic stop while headed to work and later deported. She fears for her family's survival.
"My daughters keep asking when is daddy coming home," Moran, 33, said.
Moran's struggle and that of many families emphasizes the need for reform, said Isabel Benitez of Bay Point.
"Papers or no papers, we are all human beings and part of one community ... a family," she said.
The U.S. Senate passed comprehensive immigration reform legislation earlier this summer, but the House of Representatives has yet to take up the issue. Even so, there has been increasing discussion about the issue throughout the state and nation during the August recess. Some House representatives have indicated a more piecemeal approach to the issue.
McNerney pointed out during his remarks that there is a groundswell of civic and faith-based movements such as Wednesday's CCISCO event around the state, including a 285-mile trek 11 people are making from Bakersfield to Sacramento called the Pilgrimage for a Pathway to Citizenship.
"We need immigration reform, we need it this year," McNerney said. "I've heard the stories. I see what people have had to go through. I see the pain the people live in, the fear the people live in, the families being ripped apart."
There are roughly 11 million U.S. residents who are not citizens.
Under the Senate proposal, eligible immigrants would have to pay $2,000 in fines and hundreds more in fees and outstanding taxes. No one with a felony conviction or more than three misdemeanors would be eligible for legal status, and applicants had to have entered the country before Dec. 31, 2011. Immigrants would also have to show they're learning English to be eligible.
Critics of the Senate bill say it constitutes amnesty and does not provide enough border security provisions and would reduce wages and increase unemployment.
CCISCO members disagreed, citing a recent report by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office that says the proposal would cut the federal budget deficit by $175 billion by 2023.
Wednesday's meeting also discussed work by the county sheriff's office on a new immigrant detainer policy and the state's TRUST Act, which would limit how the state's law enforcement officers cooperate with federal immigration efforts.
More than 100,000 people have been deported from California under federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Secure Communities program. Contra Costa County has one of the highest rates of immigration detention in California and the highest rate of noncriminal deportations in the Bay Area, according to CCISCO.
Group members are working with the sheriff's office on a policy to give more discretion over who the county hands over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, for detention and deportation.
Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.