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Immigration Activists: Raul Labrador Will Be 'Heroe O Villano'

Rally participants say history will remember Idaho congressman for his actions on immigration

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The contrast was startling: While a half-dozen individuals shared tales of heartbreak, they were surrounded by a river of smiling faces.

But the smiles were frozen; a photographer had captured them on more than 50 larger-than-life portraits. And the giant snapshots filled the front steps of the Idaho Statehouse. Standing among the photos was a group of activists, each speaking on behalf of those in the photographs, unable to speak for themselves.

"I am an aspiring American," said the quote below each of the images of undocumented individuals. Their collective faces served as a frame for immigration-themed conversations on the capitol steps Friday, Aug. 2.

"Lamentablemente, hay miles de personas como nosotros que estan viviendo en las sombras por causa de no tener un estatus legal en este heroso pais," said Vicente Valentin, a community leader from Oaxaca, Mexico and member of the Coalition for Immigrant Rights of Idaho. "Pero somos personas dignas de compartir este pais y luchar por un future mejor para nuestros hijos."

Leo Morales, Communications and Advocacy director for ACLU of Idaho, stood at Valentin's elbow to translate:

"Unfortunately, there are thousands of people like us who are living in the shadows because of not having a legal status in this beautiful country," said Morales in the translation. "But we are people worthy of sharing this country, and fighting for a better future for our children."

Valentin's remarks were part of what was dubbed as "Welcome Home, Raul Labrador," marking the Idaho Republican House member's return to the Gem State during the August U.S. Congress recess.

While the immigration activists taking part in the Statehouse event acknowledged that Labrador was only one of Idaho's four congressional representatives heading back home during the recess, they specifically set their sights on the man who has represented Idaho's 1st Congressional District since 2011.

"It's because Congressman Labrador is a former immigration attorney," said Estefania Mondragon, a fellow at the ACLU of Idaho. "He recognizes that the immigration system is broken and he knows this is the time to transcend politics."

But in June, Labrador walked away from a bipartisan group working on a House immigration bill. At the time, he said there were "irreconcilable differences" on how proposed legislation would deal with health care for undocumented immigrants.

"Congressman Labrador, la historia recordara que ya sea como un heroe o como villano," said Valentin.

Morales' translation: "Congressman Labrador, history will either remember you as a hero or a villain."

Mondragon said that only a direct path to citizenship for those who are undocumented would be acceptable.

"It's all or nothing. We are not leaving our families behind," she said. "Some want to separate our families by only giving our younger brothers and sisters a chance to remain while leaving our mothers and fathers behind."

As an example, 17-year-old Daniela Flores said she is one of the so-called "deferred action students," allowing approximately 1.7 million young people who came into the U.S. illegally to remain while they continue their studies.

"But deferred action isn't enough; I still live in fear," said Flores. "Just yesterday, my mom was almost deported. [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] agents were at my mother's workplace. And if she had been deported, my sisters and I would end up in foster care. Without citizenship, it really doesn't matter what my grades are or how smart I am."

Ivan Carrillo said he's all too familiar with those shadows, having come to the U.S., undocumented, at the age of 6.

"I was afraid at school. Kids would say, 'Speak English; go back to your country wetback.' I felt worthless," recalled Carrillo. "But at the age of 14, I became a legal resident and, shortly after that, a U.S. citizen, thanks to some reforms back in 1986. I was so proud. I felt forgiven."

Today, Carrillo said he's a successful businessman, working for El Centro Insurance Agency in Nampa.

"Becoming a citizen gave me strength," he said.

And that strength could come in numbers. A new poll by the Partnership for a New America indicates that 67 percent of Idaho residents support enacting "commonsense comprehensive immigration reform."

But for now, Carrillo, Flores, Mondragon and Valentin would be satisfied with just swaying one Idahoan to their cause: Raul Labrador, who will return to Washington, D.C., when the U.S. House reconvenes Monday, Sept. 9.