By Michelle LaRue, Virginia Director, CASA in Action, Woodbridge, VA
As I walk neighborhoods in Northern Virginia, it is empowering to see the rich diversity we have in our state. Places like Manassas and Reston are filled with people who were born overseas – ranging from El Salvador, Somalia, Honduras, Korea and other corners in the world. Despite their reasons to migrate, they all have one commonality: they decided to set roots in our state.
Making up more than 12 percent of the state’s total population, one in six Virginia workers is an immigrant; the vast majority of them are living and working legally in our state either as naturalized U.S. citizens or under an immigration program such as Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). In fact, over half of all immigrants in Virginia are naturalized U.S. citizens and nearly 170 thousand immigrants are eligible to become naturalized U.S. citizens.
Julio Ramirez, a millennial from Herndon working in Fairfax County Public Schools, was born in El Salvador and became U.S. citizen a few years ago. He voted for the first time in 2012 and is inspired to vote again this November to push back against the hate that’s coming from the White House and republican Congresswoman Barbara Comstock’s inaction to protect immigrants.
“I’m voting this November against Barbara Comstock because she has demonstrated not to care about people like me; she has failed to support TPS, a vital program for my family,” says Ramirez every time he talks to voters in the 10th district of Virginia.
While Virginia’s 10th District is home to the nation’s second largest Republican-represented population of people with TPS, Comstock has refused to meet with any of the thousands of immigrants, like Ramirez’s cousin, who have lived and worked in her district legally with that status for as long as decades. This past August, DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen announced that the TPS program — which offers protections from deportation and legal permission to work in the U.S. for Salvadorans and nationals of nine other countries who are in the U.S. — would end Sept. 9, 2019.
Congress has yet to take action to avert the disaster of un-legalizing as many as a million TPS holders nationwide, making the extension of TPS a critical issue for voters.
Under the umbrella of my organization CASA in Action, an electoral organization fighting for immigrant rights in the Mid-Atlantic region, Ramirez is joined by a vast diversity of people that includes TPS and DACA recipients who are not eligible to vote. They are actively knocking on thousands of doors, sending texts and making calls urging voters to cast their ballot against Comstock.
“As a TPS holder who works and pays taxes, I’m deeply disappointed that Barbara Comstock has refused to represent the thousands of TPS holders in District 10th,” stated Elsy Alfaro, a TPS holder who immigrated decades ago from El Salvador. “We have kids that were born in the U.S. Not extending TPS means separating families. I’m urging voters to stand up for unity and equality by using their vote against Comstock.”
The immigrant community as a whole has contributed extensively to Virginia’s economy while waiting for their immigration status to be adjusted. Some of them work as daycare providers in child and senior centers, others are construction workers building our roads and homes. Some are cleaning our offices or mowing our lawns. And others work in high-tech industries waiting years to bring their families over due to visa backlog.
TPS holders and the rest of immigrants have made our state stronger and profitable through their economic and social contributions. This is a community that strives to do better. A community that left everything behind in search for freedom, safety and economic security. This is a community that came to our nation upholding the belief that no matter what we look like, how long we’ve been here, or what’s in our wallets, we must always pursue freedom and equality. Yet it is also a community that Barbara Comstock has decided is not important enough to stand up and fight for.
With the midterm elections this Tuesday, we are asking voters to deliver a resounding victory to embrace equality in Virginia. Jennifer Wexton is the right choice to defend our immigrant families.
Michelle LaRue is the Virginia Director of CASA in Action in Woodbridge, VA. With nearly 100,000+ lifetime members, CASA in Action is the largest electoral organization fighting for immigrant rights in the Mid-Atlantic region. For more information, please visit CASAinAction.org. Follow us @CASAinAction