SARATOGA SPRINGS — More than 20 people stood in front of the post office on Broadway on Wednesday evening holding signs that read, “All Are Welcome Here.”
The Saratoga Immigration Coalition — a network of civic groups, faith communities and concerned individuals — hosted the rally in conjunction with Wednesday’s rally in Washington to urge Congress to pass the Dream Act.
The bill, which was introduced to the Senate in July, would grant citizenship to those who were 18 years old or younger when they arrived in the United States and were in the country for at least four years before the bill is enacted, among other requirements.
Coalition member Terry Diggory said the organization decided to host Wednesday’s rally to show support for the measure.
“We want to raise visibility on this issue in our community,” he said. “Saratoga Springs relies heavily on immigrants, especially in the hotels and restaurants and during the summer at the race track.”
Diggory said he hopes the Saratoga Springs community supports those who are in the United States receiving education and seeking gainful employment.
“These people don’t know any other country as their home,” he said. “It’s the right thing to do.”
The Rev. Joseph Cleveland, of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Saratoga Springs, said the church decided to join the coalition because it goes along with the church’s faith values.
“The immigrant community is so important to Saratoga Springs, and we couldn’t do what we do without them,” he said. “To victimize and demonize them is shocking.”
Over the summer, more than 30 immigrants were arrested by federal agents in Saratoga Springs over the course of less than two months.
“This summer, to have so many people robbed from our community was traumatizing,” Cleveland said. “It builds fear, and our faith calls us to work on the side of love, so we can’t let fear stand.”
Kevin O’Brien, of Saratoga Springs, said on Wednesday that 27 years ago — to the day — he returned to Saratoga Springs from El Salvador with his newly adopted 4-year-old son.
“Being here tonight is a wonderful way to remember the experience,” he said.
O’Brien said he and his wife were inspired to adopt by a PBS documentary about the war in El Salvador, which occurred throughout the 1980s and into the early ’90s.
“It was so powerful that we had to do something, and we were in the position to do this,” he said. “It created opportunities for him, but it’s so much bigger than that; it shapes your whole world view.”
O’Brien added of his adopted son: “As he grew, he grew us through the process.”
Saratoga Springs resident Karen Villesvik said her grandfather came to the United States from Germany illegally.
“Documents were falsified for him to come here,” she said. “Nowadays, it’s hard for people to get in this country even with a visa.”
Villesvik said it’s not right that immigrants have to hide.
“They’re so important to the community, and I feel bad that they have to operate in the shadows,” she said. “The majority are working hard and are taking advantage of the opportunities they don’t often get in other countries.”
Moving forward, Villesvik said she would like to see the Dream Act become a reality.
“People shouldn’t be sent back to a country they don’t really know; that seems inhumane to me,” she said. “Everybody has a struggle, and everybody has a dream.”