Sunday, March 8, 2009House Speaker Nancy Pelosi joined hundreds of families Saturday evening at a church in San Francisco's Mission District demanding an end to the immigration raids and deportations that separate parents from children across the United States.
Pelosi, who has said securing U.S. borders is a top priority, used the forum to call for a comprehensive immigration program that recognizes the broad contributions immigrants have made to the fabric of the country.
"Our future is about our children," Pelosi told a crowd of mostly Latino families at St. Anthony's Church.
No matter if those families arrived two days ago or centuries ago, Pelosi said "that opportunity, that determination, that hope has made American more American."
She said, "Taking parents from their children ... that's un-American."
Pelosi's comments came during the San Francisco stop of a 17-city national "Family Unity" tour led by leaders of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Members of the caucus expect to meet with President Obama in two weeks to discuss the nation's immigration policies.
"No city in American has been spared the devastating effects of our broken system," said Illinois Congressman Luis Gutierrez, a Democrat who is leading the five-week tour. "We cannot wait any longer for fair and just immigration reform."
Under the Bush administration's Operation Return to Sender, tens of thousands of people have been arrested nationwide, including at least 1,800 in Northern and Central California.
While the raids have drawn protests across the region, anti-immigrant groups such as the Northern California chapter of the Minutemen Civil Defense Corps have defended the actions.
In a state whose population is expected to rocket to 54 million by 2040 - including a Latino population of 27 million compared with 16 million whites and 7 million of Asian descent - immigration will be a critical issue for decades.
Organizers of Saturday evening's event said raids and family separations - often parents are taken away from their U.S.-born children - run counter to a country where early Irish, Italian, Asian and African American families founded some of the country's most important institutions. In addition, they say, such measures have devastating impacts on the young children who are left behind, or forced to move with their parents.
Ivan Torres, a 9-year-old boy from San Jose, said he lives in fear that his father, who earns a living cleaning offices, will be taken away: "If (my father) is deported, who will pay the bills? Who will take care of me and my two sisters? We need to keep families together."