Tempers flare at immigration policy event

July 11, 2009 7:36:55 PM PDT
The immigration debate again has people at odds. On Saturday, families who say they've been hurt by immigration policies are telling their stories to lawmakers. But they were also met with protestors. During Saturday's community meeting, Hispanic leaders say a 17-year- old girl broke down crying, describing how her mother and father had been deported, leaving her, a U.S. citizen, behind.

Immigration reform advocates hoped her story would generate sympathy for immigrants. But they also knew enough to expect it would attract critics.

As Hispanic leaders gathered inside Houston's Alpha and Omega Church to call for immigration reform, protesters clashed outside. One side was crying out for the safety of our country. The other, for compassion toward its immigrants. And both wanted change.

"We deal with this issue literally every day in our offices," said Houston Congressman Gene Green.

Congressman Green hosted Saturday's 'Family Unity' event to gather signatures on a petition, calling for the president to pass legislation by the end of the year to allow thousands of immigrants already in the U.S. to stay here.

"Why would we deport a mother and father if their child is a U.S. citizen?" said

But the group, Borderwatch, believes lawmakers should prioritize homeland security.

"We need to secure our borders and then we can talk about the details of people who are here," said

Their message, at one point, made its way inside the church to interrupt the events inside, showing there's no sacred ground in this debate.

Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus are travelling to 23 cities across the country to hold these family unity events. Organizers say they've faced protests everywhere they go.

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