Veterans Day celebrations include push for immigration reform

Veterans Day 2013 provided yet another opportunity for activists to highlight the important role of immigrants in the nation’s past, present and future.

Veteran and immigrant becomes advocate for reform
In New York City, Francisco Lema, an Ecuadorian-born veteran of the Iraq war, has turned his attention to the immigration reform movement. In part due to his desire to serve his country, and in part because he has family members who are undocumented immigrants, Lema has been advocating for reform by holding prayer vigils outside the Staten Island office of Republican Rep. Michael Grimm.

“When I went to the military I was just a permanent resident. I always loved this country, so I wanted to serve. To me it was like giving back something to this country,” Lema told the New York Daily News.

Lately, Lema has been one of a group of activists, led by the umbrella group Faith in New York, 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union, who have been holding the vigils three days a week in front of Grimm’s office in the hope that it will pressure the congressman to vote in favor of the comprehensive immigration reform bill now stalled in the House. They will mark Veterans Day by gathering in the same spot.

Minnesota veterans and immigrants show their support
A group of veterans and immigrants between the ages of 15 and 99 gathered in St. Paul, Minn., on the eve of Veterans Day to show their support for the DREAM Act, which would allow undocumented immigrants to enlist in the military. They were joined by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., who also supports passage of the bill.

Veronica Zhinin, of Minneapolis, now 17, was 5 years old when her parents brought her from Ecuador to the United States. She plans to graduate next spring from South High School. “My dream is to serve in the U.S. Navy,” she told the Star Tribune. “I want to be a hero.”