Just last week, Francisco Aguilar of Lexington was granted temporary protection from deportation, allowing him to go to school and work for at least two years. He said he isn't sure what happens after that, and he would like a more permanent solution.
Aguilar, 20, a student at Bluegrass Community and Technical College, was given a two-year work permit under the Obama administration's 2012 deferred-action program for young undocumented people who arrived in the United States as children. It isn't amnesty and doesn't provide a path to citizenship. Obama's administration has made it clear that immigration reform is a top priority for the president's second term.
"I'm hoping we can get something better than two years," Aguilar said. "I'm willing to go to school and push this country forward."
On Wednesday, he rallied downtown with an estimated 300 people in Triangle Park in support of immigration reform. Aguilar, like many others at the rally, wants Congress to pass legislation that offers a path to citizenship.
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Aguilar, who said he came to the United States from Mexico when he was 10, met the necessary qualifications for the program. He is younger than 30, proved he was brought to the United States before he turned 16 and had met other academic requirements.
"I'm here to support other people in my situation who have struggled," he said. "I'm hoping and praying they will pass something."
Lexington's gathering mirrored a rally Wednesday on the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol in Washington to urge Congress to pass immigration reform in 2013. Advocates are asking Congress to grant legal status and give a direct path to citizenship for the nation's 11 million undocumented immigrants, said rally organizer Brian Rich, a board member of the Kentucky Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.
The crowd at the downtown Rally for Legalization with Dignity included documented and undocumented immigrants, state and local politicians, members of the clergy, business owners and advocates. They waved American flags, sang The Star-Spangled Banner and chanted "Yes we can."
One man who brought his family said he worked in construction; another said he was a factory worker.
One young man wore a T-shirt that said, "No human being is illegal." An older woman held a sign asking Obama to stop splitting up families through deportation.
Rich said people from all over the state who went to Wednesday's rally were calling for immigration reform that will legalize undocumented immigrants and "stop the deportation that has been separating families."
"The immigrant community in this country has suffered tremendous stress and trauma by the hundreds of thousands of deportations that we have had in recent years, and a legalization program would keep families together and stop the senseless separation of families," he said.
"We hope Congress will pass an immigration reform law that gives legalization with dignity."
Rich said that there are more than 100,000 immigrants in Kentucky, and it's unclear how many are undocumented, but "it's definitely a majority," he said. ''We are talking about tens of thousands of people here in Kentucky."
Felix Oliver, the owner of the Kentucky Insurance & Investment Group in Lexington, said he gave his employees time off to attend the rally, because as an immigrant from Mexico who became a U.S. citizen as a child, he could identify with many people at Triangle Park on Wednesday.
Oliver said that he knew undocumented people who "pay their taxes, they don't break the law, they work hard, they send money back to their families in Mexico."
"They deserve to get the American dream," he said.
Several people representing organizations that support the cause and churches, including the Annunciation Catholic Church in Shelbyville, were at the rally.
"God has no borders, so a country should have no borders either," said Rev. Tony Aja, the coordinator of Hispanic/Latino ministries for the Presbytery of Mid-Kentucky, based in Louisville.
State Rep. Ruth Ann Palumbo, D-Lexington, and Urban County Council member Chris Ford told the crowd they supported their cause. Afterward, Palumbo said in an interview that "immigration reform is overdue."
"We are all made by God. We all love our families. We love our children," she said. "We need fair wages ... to support our families and take care of our children."