D.C. march, promoting change in immigration policies, is personal for local mom

— Lehigh Acres resident Nora Curiel knows the 24-hour bus ride to Washington, D.C., to participate in “March for America: Change Takes Courage” on Sunday will not be comfortable.

But it will not compare to the discomfort the 32-year-old has suffered during her life, coming to the United States from Mexico as an infant and having to deal with name-calling and discrimination.

Curiel is taking her 13-year-old daughter along to help her understand the struggle and to teach her a life lesson.

“I’m going so my daughter can be proud of her mother,” said Curiel, who has dealt with being called a “wetback” -- slang for illegal immigrant -- her whole life. “I want her to know that after so many years and so many tears, that we’re here because of hard work. I’ll never forget my roots. But now we march forward. It’s about giving someone else a chance … It’s about giving someone else hope.”

Curiel and her daughter plan to be among tens of thousand of people expected to take part in the march at the National Mall.

National Immigration Forum spokeswoman Katherine Vargas said more than 900 buses from at least 35 states will head to D.C. and that interest in the march has been overwhelming.

Vargas said the message of the demonstration is simple: the time for talk, promises, and waiting is over.

During his 2008 campaign, President Barack Obama promised to make overhauling the immigration system a top priority in his first year, but the odds that he will get to sign a bill before November’s elections appear slim.

How to handle the estimated 12 million people in the U.S. illegally is a volatile issue, with some interests opposing any attempt to help them become citizens and others insisting on stronger border controls first. Lawmakers failed to agree in 2006 and 2007 when they last tried to overhaul the immigration system, and the political climate this year is tougher than it was then.

However, Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., released an outline of a comprehensive immigration bill Thursday, and Obama pledged to do everything in his power to get immigration legislation moving through Congress this year.

The outline calls for illegal immigrants, who want to get on the path to legal status, to admit they broke the law by entering the U.S., pay fines and back taxes, and perform community service. They also would be required to pass background checks and be proficient in English before working toward legal residency, required before becoming a citizen.

But the anger and disappointment felt by immigration advocates and Latinos, who voted heavily for Obama in the 2008 presidential election largely because of his promise, remains.

“Why hasn’t he stopped the immigration raids? Why are families still being torn apart?” said Gloria Hernandez, president of the Immokalee chapter of League of United Latin American Citizens. “We don’t want any more promises. We want action.”

Hernandez, who put together the trip for the Immokalee group, said response to the event was substantial.

In total, two buses with 110 people are slated to travel from Immokalee to Washington for the protest, Hernandez said Friday.

All are going for a cause that is personal to them, she said.

“Some will go to defend the Dream Act, others will go to defend their right to work, while others will protest the growing number of families that have been split,” Hernandez said. “People feel that they have to go out themselves and take a stand if they want immigration reform.”

Curiel said she initially wasn’t keen on going to Washington, D.C. But the more she learned, the more she realized that it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for her 13-year-old daughter, Amy, who attends Immokalee Middle.

“It will be a good experience for her, so she sees how real life is,” said Curiel, a native of the Mexican state of Tamaulipas and whose parents brought her to the U.S. when she was six months old, and has lived and worked in Immokalee most of her life. “I’m going with the hope that reform can take place.”

__ The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Connect with Elysa Batista at www.naplesnews.com/staff/elysa_batista

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