Immigrants on pilgrimage stop in Merced to promote reform

tmiller@mercedsunstar.comAugust 25, 2013 

— Diane Campos was born in Aguascalientes, Mexico, but has no memory of her time there and hasn't visited since.

Campos, 19, lives in Sacramento and has been in the United States for the past 18 years. "I went to school here, grew up feeling like a U.S. citizen until I reached high school," Campos said.

When she tried to look into colleges, she started to see the hurdles in the way of undocumented students, she said.

Campos is one of 11 people who stopped Tuesday at St. Patrick's Catholic Church in Merced, on a pilgrimage from Sacramento to Bakersfield. The Pilgrimage for a Pathway to Citizenship, organized by the community network PICO California and its local affiliates, is a 23-day, 285-mile walk to push for immigration reform.

The group was met by a few hundred supporters who cheered for the travelers as they entered the church. Several speakers also gave presentations during the stop.

Campos said she decided the traditional four-year college wasn't in her future, and she wanted to focus on a music career. She changed her mind as a senior and was accepted into Berklee College of Music in Boston.

However, Campos said she couldn't go because it was too expensive and undocumented students couldn't receive scholarships.

Campos said she decided to participate in the pilgrimage not only for herself, but for her parents, who own an apartment cleaning business. "I look at my dad, who is an intelligent man, who has all the characteristics to be successful," she said, "but a piece of paper is holding him back."

The 11 participants in the pilgrimage, who represent the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, are a little less than halfway through their journey.

They walk every day from 5 a.m. to about noon, then attend afternoon and evening events meant to bring together local people for discussions on immigration reform.

Each morning, they start the walk where they stopped the day before, and walk about 12 to 15 miles each.

Reps. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, and Xavier Becerra, D-Los Angeles, were both in attendance during Tuesday's meeting at the Merced church. Both men expressed support for immigration reform that would give undocumented immigrants a way to citizenship.

Costa said he's supported immigration reform since he first entered Congress. "Today, which happens to be my mother's birthday — my mamacita," Costa said, during a speech to the crowd, "you do not have to worry about convincing Congressman Costa of the righteousness of comprehensive immigration reform."

Becerra called immigration reform a "personal" issue for him. His parents were immigrants.

"I see my parents in this church, I see myself in this church," Becerra said. "And I see my children in this church."

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