Local young people work toward immigration reform

By: Jason Tarr Email
By: Jason Tarr Email

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WICHITA, Kan. -- One by one, brave young people stepped to a podium at the front of a large room filled with community members. As they took their place, they addressed three local legislators who had come to hear their concerns.

Among the young people to make a presentation was Cristal Magdaleno, a freshman at Newman University. Magdaleno is the first of six children in her family to go to college straight out of high school. She says her family didn't have the money to send her siblings to university right away.

The focus of her speech to legislators was her concern about rising tuition costs.

"The representatives and senators heard what we had to say and agreed with us that there are a lot of things in our legislature that aren't going for what the people need and want," Magdaleno said.

In addition to concerns over tuition costs, her colleagues addressed legislators about their concerns about immigration policies and new voter registration restrictions.

They are a part of a group called the Kansas DREAMers. It's a group of young people dreaming big about immigration reform.

Legislators say they are impressed with the group and hearing the concerns was important.

Sen. Oleatha Faust-Goudeau (D-Wichita) and Rep. Gail Finney (D-Wichita) were joined by Rep. Ponka-We Victors (D-Wichita).

"As a legislator, it kind of verified how we feel about certain issues," Victors said. "I know I'm making the right choices when I speak out against the craziness that's going on in the statehouse."

The meeting with legislators Saturday was part of a day-long conference for the DREAMers put on by Kansas People's Action.

"We are focusing on bringing out the power of young people, specifically young immigrants, in taking action to stand up for their rights and to secure a better future for themselves in this state," said Louis Goseland, Campaign Director for Kansas People's Action.

Before talking to legislators, the young people spent much of the afternoon knocking on doors in the community. In one hour, they talked to more than 150 people.

Their message was clear: Secretary of State Kris Kobach is the biggest obstacle in the way when it comes to rights for immigrants and he needs to go.

They got 77 signatures from community members who promised to vote against Kobach later this year.

"Whether we are talking about endangered species or voter's rights, Kris Kobach has made a business of throwing the craziest things out there," Goseland said.

Legislators echoed that message just hours later at the forum.

"His policies are way out there and they are going to cost our state a lot of money," Rep. Victors said. "He's our Secretary of State. I really feel like he should be making voting easier. He should be encouraging more people to vote. Instead, he has a whole different agenda that is more than Kansas would like to see."

The legislators told the young speakers that they support them and are fighting for them in Topeka.

But they said the most important thing the young people can do is encourage people to vote and to vote themselves to help knock lawmakers out of office who are pushing anti-immigration policies.

"Getting people out to vote is very important, especially in this election year," Rep. Victors said. "We have an opportunity to turn it around."

That message resonated with Magdaleno and the other DREAMers.

"This is our state and if we don't go vote, the problems that we feel aren't going to be solved because we aren't voting to change things," Magdaleno said.

Kansas People's Action will host a statewide day of action on May 17th at the KPA Headquarters at 1751 N. Ash in Wichita. They say it will be a chance to connect with Kansas voters, build electoral people power, and continue the process of "reclaiming Kansas" in 2014.

For more information please visit www.kansaspeoplesaction.org. You can also call KPA at (316) 264-9972.

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