Northern Va. immigrants plea for path to citizenship, call for Wolf’s support
Rossell's world was set for a dramatic shift July 31. That's the deadline U.S. immigration officials set for the Sterling resident to be deported. They told Rossell to find the money for a plane ticket home and pack his bags. They told him to get out of the country that, he says, has given him a great deal – the only country his 10-year-old daughter, Kelly, has known.
An honor student, Kelly was voted “most likely to be famous” by her schoolmates. She kind of already is.
The Rossells have become firm immigration reform advocates – celebrities, even – with an Associated Press picture of Brian and Kelly featured in the Wall Street Journal and online media outlet, RT, featuring their journey on several news segments.
This publicity, Rossell said, led to a breakthrough last week. The immigration officials told him to sit tight. “Don't worry about the ticket,” Rossell recalls the officials saying.
Last week's godsend is no guarantee Rossell and his daughter get to stay in the country. There's only the promise he won't be deported at the end of the month.
“With this news, I have hope that my lawyer can somehow fix my situation,” Rossell, who speaks some English, said through a translator Wednesday.
In his decade in the U.S., by way of El Salvador, Rossell has endured some tumult. Is he a model citizen? Not necessarily. He came to the country after fleeing gang activity in his native land, according to RT.com, and a 2012 disorderly conduct charge is what led to his tagging for deportation. This was after custody battles with Kelly's mother, who kidnapped her daughter for more than two years, something that steamrolled Brian Rossell into depression and cost him his job.
But America is where Rossell wants to be. It's where the single father who now has custody of his daughter wants to work, wants to raise a family and, eventually, become a citizen.
“This country has given me so many opportunities. Opportunities like my daughter can receive a good education, and I can also help my family back in my [native] country,” he said.
Rossell was one of nearly 250 people that turned out for an immigration reform rally and vigil in Herndon Wednesday night. The rally's intent: Press for action from U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.-10th) on immigration reform. More specifically, the crowd demanded a pathway to citizenship for the more than 10 million undocumented immigrants in the country.
In June, the U.S. Senate passed a bipartisan immigration bill that includes a 13-year process for citizenship for people in the country illegally, heightened border security and an increase in work visas for foreigners interested in living and working here. Sens. Mark Warner (D) and Tim Kaine (D) supported the legislation.
But Republican leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives have said their chamber won't take up the Senate's bill. Instead, members of the House are working to craft their own reform measure. Reform advocates are skeptical a House version will include a course for citizenship similar to the Senate bill.
“People like to use that term amnesty. You know, the Senate bill is not amnesty,” said Deshundra Jefferson, a communications associate with Virginia New Majority, a grassroots advocacy group that helped organize Wednesday's vigil. “The pathway to citizenship requires people to learn English, to pass a background check and to pay for their citizenship.”
On Thursday, a spokesman for Wolf's office said the congressman wished he could have been at his Herndon office during the event, as he has been in past years for immigration marches. But because the House was taking votes late last night, Wolf couldn't attend, according to the spokesman.
In a prepared statement, Wolf said he believes reform in some fashion is necessary.
"In 1986, I opposed legislation that granted amnesty to some illegal immigrants," Wolf said. "We have seen that the measure did not work to keep people from violating our current immigration laws. I support finding a new solution that reforms our immigration laws in a way that guarantees we remain a welcome and open country to visitors and legal immigrants while ensuring that our borders are secure and our immigration laws are fully enforced."
According to an ABC News/Washington Post poll released July 18, 54 percent of Americans said they support an eventual pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Sixty-four percent favored a general plan to increase U.S. border security that includes adding 20,000 border agents and 700 miles of fence along the border with Mexico, but that support fell to 53 percent when a $46 billion price tag was attached to the question.
Luisa Burgos, a 20-year-old from Alexandria, was another immigrant at Wednesday's rally, which began at the Hilton hotel with a procession to Wolf's office following. A student at James Madison University, Burgos calls America home, despite the fact she spent her first 12 years in Bolivia.
To Burgos, immigration reform means being able to continue with a world-class education.
“I want to go to law school, but without this immigration reform bill, it's kind of hard for me because there aren't scholarships available,” said Burgos, who received a full scholarship from an education foundation in New York for her undergraduate studies.
Without further immigration action from Congress, Burgos said financial assistance or student loans won't be available for her law school years, given she isn't a citizen.
Burgos said no matter what she does, she feels there's always a glass ceiling in terms of what she can achieve.
“I'm over here trying twice as hard as everyone else. They don't take these opportunities, but me, I want to take these opportunities, but I can't. I'm not allowed,” she said.
Earlier this year, Burgos qualified for deferred action from immigration services – meaning she doesn't have to worry about deportation right now. That measure keeps her comfortable in the U.S. until April 2015, one month before she plans to graduate from college.