More than 200 people packed the Betty R. Tipton Room on Feb. 24 to attend an Immigration Forum sponsored by the Foundation for Campus Ministry; the Center for Community Engagement; United Action Connecticut (UACT); the Office for Hispanic Ministry; and the Diocese of Norwich.
Special guest U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal began the event with an encouraging message: "Now is our time for accountable, comprehensive reform of our immigration system." Sen. Blumenthal declared that the strength of our nation is our diversity and said he enjoyed seeing the "joy and pride" of new citizens at naturalization ceremonies. "We are a nation of immigrants," he continued. "People come here for freedom, for democracy, for economic opportunities, and to make their own contributions to our society."
The audience represented Willimantic's diverse Latino community, which constitutes almost 50 percent of the town's population, with Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, Guatemalans, Dominicans and other Latino families in attendance.
With such a large local Latino population, "Immigration is not a Texas issue; it's not a California issue; it's a Willimantic issue," said Eastern President Elsa Núñez. "It's about real people, seeking a better life for their families and a chance to realize the American Dream."
Other speakers include Sister Mary Jude of the Office for Hispanic Ministry and Tim Eakins of United Action Connecticut. The Eastern forum was the second of five forums that the UACT is planning around the state.
The event enabled immigrants to share their stories on the number of problems and hardships immigrants face when coming to America. Some stories left audience members in tears. "When my older son graduated from high school, his teacher helped him apply for a scholarship, but he couldn't accept it because he didn't have a social security number. My younger son had the same problem," said Rosie from Willimantic. "My husband, always working very hard trying to keep his job, lost it after 10 years because something was not right with his papers."
"Let us all remember that we have one, two or three generations of families that came to this country the same way, without papers," said María Lizbeth Hernández, a graduate of Eastern. "Many crossed an entire ocean and are enjoying the American Dream. How beautiful would it be to give faces to all these people who live honestly in this country, who live in the shadows of fear and stress. They deserve to have a face. They deserve to embrace the same dream."