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Sunday, June 7, 2009

Richard Cabellos, a South Riding resident who was born in Peru and raised in Fairfax County, has worked on behalf of immigrant communities in Virginia in various jobs and volunteer positions. In an e-mail interview with loudounextra.com, he discussed his involvement in hot-button immigration issues in the region. Here are excerpts.

Q You are a director of Community Connections Outreach for the Fairfax County Park Authority. What does the job entail?

A I am one of the two coordinators the FCPA hired in 2006 to build bridges to the Latino and Korean communities of Fairfax County. Community Connections is a comprehensive outreach and education strategy developed by the FCPA to listen to, engage and build trust with increasingly diverse park users.

You have been a member of El Pueblo Unido (People United). Tell us about the philosophy and activities of the organization.

The original El Pueblo Unido organization was started by two young Latino community organizers from Falls Church and Woodbridge and myself. Our first instinct in starting this organization was to bring some common sense to the immigration debate in Northern Virginia, to educate state delegates and senators at the General Assembly in Richmond and to bring about fair and comprehensive laws in the commonwealth.

One aspect that many elected officials failed to address when introducing or supporting legislation was the impact it would have on all communities. Our goal was to provide that knowledge to our elected officials.

Which specific events or concerns caused you to become involved in immigration issues?

The main concern was just a matter of plain social justice for the poor and the misunderstood. I saw honest people who were just trying to feed their families. I saw children just trying to study their hardest. I saw mothers and fathers doing their best to teach their sons and daughters the value of what it is to work hard in this country, because there were no opportunities for them in their own countries. And then I saw these same people used as scapegoats in the media for crime, political wedge issues and divisive and irrational laws.

Worst of all, I saw these people turn voiceless and afraid to defend themselves. I thought someone needed to do something. The immigrant community was grouped together when crime happened and was blamed for things we had nothing to do with. That is not the United States or the commonwealth I grew up in.

The debate over how to treat immigrants who did not come here legally is especially fierce in Northern Virginia. Some seek stringent immigration-law enforcement and bans on government assistance, and others argue that almost all immigrants deserve a clear path to citizenship. How would you summarize your position on handling illegal immigration?

First, let me address the issue of the terminology of "illegal" vs. "undocumented." I feel that when we use the word "illegal," it biases questioning or debate about immigration. For example, when people use "illegitimate child," yes, the child was born under diverse circumstances, but it still is a breathing, living human being, not a criminal. Without understanding that there is a complex immigration system that makes a person undocumented and not an illegal person, I believe that no living, breathing human is illegal.

I do believe there has to be a legal pathway for those individuals who have contributed to our society that ensures that those individuals who have caused harm to our country are not given that opportunity.

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