By Ross Farrow
Former Lodi resident Sarai Mora moved to the United States with her parents from Mexico when she was 10 years old. She told a crowd of about 200 people at an Eastside church Tuesday that, despite her solid grades in high school, she cannot get financial aid to attend the University of the Pacific.
That's because she cannot gain American citizenship at this time, she told the community action meeting at Iglesia Biblica El Calvario, a church at Hilborn and South Garfield streets.
Mora, who attended Tokay High School for three years before graduating from Stockton's Franklin High School, explained that she has been unable to take citizenship classes because of the long process of getting a green card.
She was accepted into Pacific, but due to the cost, Mora instead enrolled at San Joaquin Delta College. She has completed a year's study there.
Mora, who attends Inglesia Biblica El Calvario, spoke at a community round-table meeting on Tuesday night with a group called People Involved in Community Organizing, also known as PICO. The organization is campaigning for legislation that would ease the process for immigrants to take the necessary government, history and other courses, and then apply for citizenship.
PICO representatives began their 285-mile journey from Sacramento to Bakersfield on Monday. They stopped in Lodi on Tuesday, and will hold programs about immigration reform in different towns before arriving in Bakersfield on Sept. 2.
In Lodi on Tuesday, Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton, was outspoken in his support for legislation that would make it easier for immigrants to gain American citizenship.
"We need change in this country. The time is now," McNerney told the crowd at the church. "This is the right thing to do and the right time to do it."
McNerney got a standing ovation from the crowd, which filled the sanctuary.
After the meeting, McNerney said the key is to get House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, to change his mind about immigration. McCarthy is the third-ranking Republican in the House.
On his website, McCarthy said he opposes granting amnesty to immigrants who entered the United States illegally. The United States should use physical and electronic barriers on the U.S. borders and ensure that illegal immigrants not receive any of the benefits that are reserved for American citizens, he said.
PICO and other participants walking from Sacramento to Bakersfield plan to lobby McCarthy when they arrive in Kern County on Sept. 2. McNerney said Tuesday that it may be possible to change McCarthy's mind about making it easier for immigrants to go through the citizenship process, though he emphasized it's not a done deal.
PICO spokeswoman Trineka Greer said there are 11 million people seeking American citizenship, and two-thirds of them have been in the United States for more than a decade.
The event was a non-denominational meeting of people from different faiths, organizers said. Several young people seeking citizenship addressed the crowd in clearly spoken English.
Two Southern California residents, Maria Lopez and Rogelio Bañuelos, said they have been unable to visit their relatives in Mexico for holiday celebrations and other visits because they fear being deported.
"Thank you, and pray for us," Bañuelos told the crowd.