On May 12, 2008, 18-year-old Pedro Lopez had to grow up in a hurry.
That’s the day his mother, Consuelo Vega, became one of nearly 400 undocumented workers who were arrested after a raid at Agriprocessors Inc., a kosher meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa.
Vega spent six months in prison before being deported to Mexico in October 2008.
“It was hard for me to comprehend why my mom, who worked hard for 12 hours a day, had to be treated like a criminal,” Lopez said.
Lopez shared his story with a crowd of about 100 people attending the “Dream for All” rally for immigration reform held at Schwiebert Riverfront Park in Rock Island.
The rally took place only two days after the U.S. Senate passed an immigration reform bill that could pave the way to citizenship for millions of undocumented residents.
The legislation also would beef up security on the U.S.-Mexican border. The bill's prospects are considered uncertain in the Republican-controlled U.S. House, where conservatives generally oppose citizenship for immigrants living in the country unlawfully.
Saturday's rally was organized by Quad-Cities Interfaith, Casa Guanajuato, the Quad-City Alliance for Immigrants and Refugees, World Relief Moline and LULAC Council 10 of the Quad-Cities.
Rally organizers say they will continue to press legislators to enact comprehensive and humane immigration reform that has a fair legalization process and stops the separation of families through deportation.
“We want to ensure that families stay together," said Kris Wells, a member of Quad-Cities Interfaith’s immigration task force. "The truth is that it is better for business and better for labor and better for our country for these fellow Americans to have a clear and unencumbered path to citizenship.”
Rally-goers from the community and various organizations cheered and held up signs in support of immigration reform.
Juan Reyna Jr. of East Moline said the diversity of the Quad-Cities has grown by leaps and bounds, something of which he is proud.
However, immigration reform as it stands is an “absolute failure,” he said, adding, 'Bottom line, our system is broke.”
Joseph Thawn of World Relief, an organization that helps immigrants and refugees in the Quad-Cities, was a refugee in Malaysia before coming to the United States with his wife four years ago.
Thawn said being a refugee in that Asian nation was “tough, difficult and scary.”
“When you go through such a life experience, you have no choice at all at your hands,” he added.
Although starting a new life in America had been a dream of his, Thawn said it’s difficult to be away from his mother, siblings and other loved ones who still live in his home country of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.
Thawn said he hopes legislators will support family reunification so his mother can come to the United States to be with her grandchildren.
The 2008 raid at Agriprocessors by agents from U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement is one of the biggest at a workplace in U.S. history.
With the help of an immigration lawyer, Consuelo Vega was able to return to the United States on a work permit in 2010. The family is working to gain citizenship, her son, Lopez, said.
He graduated from Postville High School in May and plans to attend college in the fall.
Lopez told the crowd his generation is standing at a new gateway to the future and that he wants to the opportunity to help shape the nation's future.
"This will not be accomplished by band-aid legislation that leaves us all feeling that we do not fully belong," he said.