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14 Oct, 2009 10:02

Capitol Hill swarmed by immigration activists

America brands itself as “the land of opportunity”, but for millions of immigrants living there illegally, the only thing available to them is deportation.

Thousands gathered for a rally near the White House demanding an amnesty to be allowed to stay.

Byron Pastor came to the States for a better life. “This is a country of better opportunity and for freedom,” he said. He is but one of the thousands of immigrants who came to Capitol Hill to demand a change.

“We're looking for a change in the law, because right now so many people are being deported, and that's affecting the families,” says immigrant Laly Arellano.

There are 12 million people living in the United States illegally. Many say the lack of federal immigration reform has caused so many people to come to the United States without permission.

The activists in Washington DC say the only sensible thing to do is to provide an avenue for those people to get legal status. They say deportation is not the answer.

Olivia Segura's daughter was serving the United States when she died in Kuwait, and now Segura's husband faces deportation.

“My husband was in the process of getting his residency. And because we didn't know how to cope with my daughter's loss he was drinking and driving when he got arrested for DUI. He has been in jail for one year and he is going to be sent to Mexico. Do you think that is fair?” Olivia complains.

Some activists believe that granting legal status to the millions of illegal immigrants will only help America in the long run.

“If those people were legalized, those people would be paying taxes, those people would be buying properties, they'd be buying more cars, they would have accesses to services that they don't have now,” believes Jaime Contreras, who came to the rally along with thousands of other immigrants.

Many also believe the recession and the healthcare debate have created a harsh anti-immigrant environment:

“Immigrants are used as scapegoats every time there’s a problem – whether it’s the economy or what have you,” Jaime says.

The current climate has not helped the situation and many continue live in fear.

“Everybody's afraid. I'm afraid. I'm a US citizen, but I got locked up just because of my name, even when they found out I wasn't the person an hour later. That's why I’m scared,” another immigrant, Jose Flores, said.

Despite the recession these immigrants believe there is still a place for them in the country. They say it is about time they were treated fairly as equal citizens, not as criminals.