Cutler Park vigil calls for immigration changes


Church group part of national effort to address issue on Obama’s first working day


By Katherine Michalets
Freeman Staff

   WAUKESHA – The candles held by people gathered Wednesday evening for a prayer vigil for comprehensive immigration reform in Cutler Park helped to illuminate their signs as they sang hymns, read prayers and spoke about immigration issues.
   The prayer vigil was sponsored by SOPHIA, a coalition of Waukesha County church congregations and organizations, but it was also part of a national effort to raise awareness about immigration reform the day after President Barack Obama took office. Waukesha’s prayer vigil was attended by about three dozen people, some holding signs that read “Immigrants are people!” “Keep families united” and “We are a nation of immigrants.”
   Dave Groenewold, whose wife Betty is SOPHIA’s president, said the organization would like to see the law changed so people don’t need to have a Social Security number in order to get a driver’s license. He said if illegal immigrants would be able to obtain their driver’s license, they could get car insurance and would make the roads safer.
   For Ralph Schultz, a retired minister and a member of SOPHIA, having immigrants treated like human beings is the most important thing.
   Groenewold said that SOPHIA feels the economy and the war in Iraq might become Obama’s biggest priorities now that he is in office, and they wanted to encourage him to still create dialogue about immigration reform. Groenewold and Schultz also spoke of creating a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants and the effects on families being separated as members come to the United States from Mexico to look for jobs.
   “He mentioned caring about each other and helping each other, which could relate to immigration,” Schultz said, referring to Obama’s inauguration speech.
   Groenewold said trade agreements the United States has with other countries allow for the free flow of goods, so why can’t that apply to people, too.
   “Why can’t we have the same thing? If there aren’t jobs, they aren’t going to come,” he said.
   John Vinson, the president of American Immigration Control in Monterey, Va., has a different perspective. He said American Immigration Control wants the U.S. government to enforce existing laws and for people who immigrate here to obey them.
   “The level of immigration should be cut back,” Vinson said.
   He said his organization is not anti-immigration, but it promotes immigration moderation. Vinson said Obama marched with illegal immigrants while he campaigned.
   “His (form) of immigrant reform is to legalize all the people who live here illegally,” Vinson said of Obama.
   Illegal immigrants are also vying for the same jobs as legal American residents, Vinson said.
   “They’re competing with Americans who want jobs just to be able to put food on the table,” he said.


Bryon S. Houlgrave/Freeman Staff
Javier O. Cervera of Milwaukee, a loan coordinator for La Casa de Esperanza’s Ways to Work program, holds a sign Wednesday as traffic passes Cutler Park in Waukesha.