Through non-stop activism and tireless dedication, advocates for immigration reform are persuading representatives from districts across the country that the time is now for humane and effective legislation. Today, I’m honored to bring you an interview with one of these leaders, Blair Ward, Community Organizer for the Montana Organizing Project. LIRS Media Relations Specialist Clarissa Perkins conducted the email interview.
Clarissa Perkins (CP): What first made you interested in the immigration reform movement?
Blair Ward (BW): I’ve volunteered with immigrants in the Gallatin Valley while studying at Montana State University, providing English as a Second Language tutoring for adults and children, mentoring and providing legal services for families with mixed immigration status. From this experience I learned very quickly of the positive impact immigrant communities have on our country. I also learned about the struggle our undocumented people face on a daily basis just to get by. Hearing stories of families being separated by deportation and racial profiling made me want to improve life for these folks.
CP: How has the Montana Organizing Project advocated for humane immigration laws?
BW: Our organizers and volunteers have traveled around the state showing over 10 screenings of the Davis Guggenheim documentary The Dream is Now to educate Montanans about this issue. Our group and its affiliates held the Keep our Families Together rally in Bozeman with over 200 people attending. Our group also sponsored a Faith Leaders Rally in Billings where 12 faith leaders in the community shared their support for comprehensive immigration reform (CIR), including the Pathway to Citizenship. We followed Senator Baucus on his Farm Bill tour, scheduled multiple visits with Senators Baucus and Tester’s staffs and phone banked 2,000 Montanans to support CIR. Brave immigrants of mixed legal status also shared their stories with Senate staff to help persuade two senators that just two years prior voted against the DREAM Act.
CP: How would comprehensive immigration reform benefit Montana and Montanans?
BW: Keeping our families together is the Montanan way. We take care of our neighbors, share many values and hold family close to our hearts. Comprehensive immigration reform will do for the safety and security of our immigrant neighbors what we expect for our own families. Reform is the fair and just action for Montana families and children. From an economic stand point, we have a large agriculture sector that thrives on immigrant labor. Montana farmers and ranchers have told me that they are unsatisfied with the current management of seasonal visas and are demanding reform now.
Montana’s First Peoples also benefit from CIR as they face racial profiling along our northern border. With many reservations near the borders of our country, it was imperative that S. 744 [the U.S. Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform bill] passed the Senate while bringing Natives to the table regarding border security. Reform is the logical and just solution to our growing immigration issue and Montanans know this.
CP: Montana Organizing Project is allied with a diverse group of organizations on this issue. Is support for immigration reform diverse and widespread in Montana?
BW: Support for immigration reform stretches across all corners of our vast state with people of all walks of life supporting the Pathway to Citizenship. I’ve spoken with over 100 small business owners, local chambers of commerce, churches, Democrats, Republicans, and they agree that reform is necessary. Labor, Indian People’s Action, women’s groups and human rights groups all joined with us in swaying our senators on this crucial issue. All of Montana’s communities are impacted by this issue and immigration reform is gaining support state-wide as we travel talking to folks.
CP: What has motivated you throughout this fight?
BW: Seeing the effects that our flawed system has on our families is motivation enough. Talking with families who’ve been torn apart by deportation and live in fear on a daily basis perpetuates me to act. I’ve been able to meet with people all around Montana and the country that have been impacted by our archaic laws and are daily fighting for their rights. I will stand by these families to ensure that they have access to the same opportunities U.S. citizens take for granted. We pushed a Pathway to Citizenship through the Senate, now we need everyone to get involved and pressure their representatives to get House leadership to support a similar comprehensive bill.