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PCUN leader back from D.C. says protest needed for reform

by: SUBMITTED - PCUNs Ramon Ramirez, president of Woodburn-based PCUN farmworkers' union, was arrested Thursday morning on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. for protesting delays in immigration reform. Less than a week after being arrested in Washington D.C. for protesting inaction on immigration reform, Woodburn-based labor leader Ramon Ramirez explained why the act of civil disobedience was a necessary step for making reform a reality.

Ramirez, president and co-founder of Woodburn-based PCUN, a 6,200-member union organization representing treeplanters, nursery workers and farmworkers, spent six hours in jail with 40 other national labor leaders who were arrested following their sit-in protest Thursday in front of the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill.

“We sang songs, we talked to each other — we lifted up our spirits,” Ramirez said of his incarceration. “We reminded ourselves what we still have to do.”

The bipartisan immigration reform bill, which overwhelmingly passed the Senate in June, would create a legal path toward citizenship for an estimated 11 million people in the U.S.

That would mean dramatic changes for Woodburn, which has a near 60 percent Hispanic population.

“It would open up a path to citizenship — albeit a long path — for thousands of people in Woodburn to become legal citizens,” said Larry Kleinman, co-founder of PCUN and its current secretary and treasurer. “Anything that simultaneously affects thousands of people in Woodburn is huge.”

The protests occurred just before Congress broke for its August recess to send a message, Ramirez said. Protesters wore business attire and were arrested for blocking an intersection.

“It was a pretty intense situation,” Ramirez said. “We decided to get arrested because our farmworker community can’t wait anymore. We want the House leadership to understand the sense of urgency on this issue.”

The action was just the first of what could be many protests occurring between now and when Congress reconvenes Sept. 9. PCUN will spend the next month engaging with local Congressional leaders and conducting Town Hall meetings, Ramirez said.

“Civil disobedience should only be used in situations where you really need to make your point,”?he said.

U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-OR), who represents Woodburn’s Fifth District in Congress, supports the immigration bill. He released a statement in support of the protestors as well.white armbands.

“The time is ripe for Congress to rectify our broken immigration system for the sake of millions of hardworking immigrants and their families, who should be afforded the opportunities to succeed and contribute to our great nation and the freedoms it provides,” Schrader said in the statement.

Much of the focus during the next month will be meeting with House Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), who represents the Second District, which includes 19 counties east of the Willamette Valley.

Walden, who is currently the fifth ranking Republican, has been seen as someone who has a critical voice in determining whether a vote on the immigration question gets to the House floor, Ramirez said.

“We want to have meetings with him. We want him to be our champion,” Ramirez said. “I have worked with him in the 1990s when he was in the state legislature. He is very bipartisan and very open.”

Congressman Walden’s office released a statement calling the federal immigration system “broken.”

“As this process moves forward, I value input from Oregonians of all points of view, and I look forward to continuing a dialogue on this complicated issue,” Walden wrote.



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