As Immigration Bill Clears Senate Hurdle, New York Immigrants Celebrate

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Marta Gualotuna

On Thursday afternoon, an hour before the vote on the immigration reform bill was scheduled, Marta Gualotuna, 53, made her way from Manhattan to a watch party in Queens.

The bill’s passage, as she saw it, could be the first step to a brighter future in the U.S.

“I’m confident,” she said. “I have this faith, this confidence that yes, we will get our papers.”

She left Ecuador in 1995 and entered the U.S. illegally, leaving five children behind. Three are still in Ecuador, and Gualotuna wants to bring them to the U.S.

“I haven’t seen my children in 28 years,” she said. “They’re being raised without their parents’ love.”

Gualotuna’s 16-year-old daughter Tana, one of three children she had here, came with her to watch the vote. Tana also thought her life could change and start to resemble her classmates’ lives if immigration reform happens.

“My Mom is going to be able to travel, she can get her license,” she said. “And it’ll just be like a normal life.”

As the vote started in the Senate, everyone at the watch party silently observed. Then, as the nay votes were counted, one man closed his eyes and finger counted: 32. Sixty-eight Senators voted yes, and the room erupted in cheers and “Si, se puede” chants.

The immigration reform bill the Senate passed on Thursday is the most ambitious overhaul of the country’s immigration laws in nearly three decades. It includes a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million immigrants in the country illegally. It is far from being signed into law. But it immediately reignited hopes and dreams of other immigrants who gathered at the watch party.

Angel Campoverde, 42, said he felt overjoyed.

“I’m very happy because we’ve moved forward. We’re all at this point now,” he said.

He, too, hasn’t seen his two children since leaving Ecuador in 1990. If this immigration bill became the law, he says he’d first visit them and later sponsor them for green cards if he got legal status. And Campoverde also hopes to change jobs.

“There are a lot of us who get exploited working construction, like I’ve been,” he said. “We are afraid to report it to the police.”

Immigrant advocates who organized the watch party emphasized the bill still needed to pass the House, where it faces an uncertain future. Marta Gualotuna knew that, but for now she just wanted a moment of celebration with her children in Ecuador.

“I’m going to call my family and tell them this is really happening,” she said. “It’s a day of triumph.”