Who: Juan Garcia
Where: Rhode Island
Role: Community Organizer for the Immigrants in Action Committee.
Supports: Immigrants, Legal or Illegal, with Immigration Issues. Educates recent immigrants on everyday concerns. Public Speaker (Radio, Local Television, Meetings, Rallies, etc). The go-to person for immigrants unwilling to work with police or state agencies for fear they or someone they love could be deported.
Opposes: R.I. Governor Carcieri's March 2008 order. The order requires state police and prison officials to identify illegal immigrants for deportation and mandates state agencies and contractors use a federal database to validate employees' legal status.
Why: the order is confusing and has led to racial profiling. He believes illegal immigration should be treated as a civil — not criminal — violation.
Example of Racial Profiling in R.I.: Jose Genao and a friend were speaking in Spanish as they waited at a plumbing supply store last March. Owner David Richardson asked them to produce social security numbers to show they were legal residents. Genao, a U.S. citizen who speaks fluent English, knew he was wronged but didn't know how to respond. He went to Garcia who helped him file a compliant with state and local civil agencies. Garcia drew publicity to the case. The courts found Richardson broke city and state discrimination laws. Richardson apologized and gave $500 to Genao, who gave five $100 payments to the organizations that helped him, including Garcia's.
Background: Juan Garcia's activism dates to his childhood. As a 10-year-old child and other children threw rocks at Guatemalan troops storming into their village to kill students during the country's long civil war. Garcia came to the United States in 1977, in the trunk of a car, to escape a bloody civil war in his home country. He arrived "without documents, without anything," he said — and settled in San Antonio, where he married a Mexican-American woman and raised two children. He began thinking about American immigration policy after his father died in Guatemala in 1988. He was concerned he'd be unable to return to the United States a second time if he went to his father's bedside, an experience that inspired him to make it easier for workers to emigrate to America. He's now a permanent, legal resident and lives in Rhode Island with his brothers and found work welding in Pawtucket.
Garcia regained his Faith and a renewed sense of activitism after a brutal assault. In 1992, attackers stabbed him a dozen times, nearly killing him, during a robbery. "I felt I hated the people who did this," he said. "I didn't want to feel hatred against anyone." Searching for peace, he wandered into St. Teresa of Avila, a Catholic church near his Providence home. He began going regularly, and started working in 1998 with Immigrants in Action, which is housed in the church.
Juan Garcia relishes his role as an activist and adviser for new immigrants and is very empathetic to their needs since he once walked in their shoes. However, he knows the limits of what one person can do. "Every day it's the same," he said. "People think I have a magic wand, that I can resolve everything. But no." Try as he might, even he cannot resolve the broken Immigration process. He strongly supports Comprehensive Immigration Reform.