Immigrant rights groups call for new reform campaign

Immigrant rights organizations around the San Francisco Bay Area last week called for a renewed and intensified campaign for immigration reform. As they commemorated International Migrants’ Day, Dec. 18, the groups welcomed introduction of immigration reform legislation by Illinois Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez.

At an International Migrants’ Day town hall meeting, the San Francisco Immigrant Legal and Education Network, a coalition of organizations representing African, Arab, Asian Pacific Islander and Latino immigrants joined with faith and other community organizations to launch a new 100-day campaign. The organizations are asking supporters to make 100 phone calls to national leaders in the next 100 days, urging achievement of immigration reform early in 2010. They highlighted calls to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and California’s two senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer.

Immigrants telling their stories at the town hall meeting included a young Korean student who called for legalizing undocumented youth, including passing the DREAM Act to provide a path to citizenship for immigrants who came to the U.S. as children. A worker told how she and others were targeted by their Bay Area employer after workers stood up for their rights under a local living wage law.

Calling Rep. Gutierrez’ legislation, HR 4321, “welcomed and long overdue,” event organizer Eric Quezada of the Dolores Street Community Services predicted that “the forces of intolerance will seek to disrupt the debate coming in 2010. We must fight to ensure that regressive measures which fail to reflect our values of equality and opportunity for all are not part of the final package presented to the president.”

The Berkeley City Council, at its meeting last week, last week, officially recognized International Migrants’ Day and called on the U.S. government to ratify the United Nations Migrants’ Rights Convention. Supporting the resolution were members of area immigrant rights groups. Berkeley resident Maricruz Manzanarez, a member of AFSCME Local 3299, said a long-time member of her union had been among many Berkeley community members deported. She also noted that during recent university anti-fee-hike protests, a student had expressed fear that the heightened police activity could put her at risk for deportation.

The Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security and Prosperity Act of 2009 – CIR ASAP, or HR 4321 – would legalize the vast majority of the approximately 12 million undocumented immigrants thought to be in the U.S. now. A provisional visa could be followed after six years by a green card; a $500 fee would be required. Immigration judges could stop deportation of parents of minor U.S.-born children. State and local police could no longer perform immigration enforcement. New border and internal controls would include a modified E-verify program. The measure has 91 original co-sponsors including members of the Hispanic, Black and Asian-Pacific Caucuses.

The Oakland-based National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights also commended Gutierrez for introducing the landmark legislation, while highlighting some concerns. Calling attention to the “intense policing” and detention of tens of thousands of immigrants whose due process rights are ignored, NNIRR Executive Director Catherine Tactaquin said, “While Rep. Gutierrez’ legislation includes some needed protections for our vulnerable communities, it continues to treat immigration as a national security issue and stops short of doing away with the most egregious aspects of our flawed immigration system.”

Nativo Lopez, head of the Los Angeles-based Mexican American Political Association, called the bill “a very good beginning of the debate about the character of immigration reform that is good for immigrants and good for America.”

He said, “We find much more to support in this legislation than to recommend for improvements and call on all immigrant communities to review it closely, draw your own conclusions and make your voices heard.”

“Now the really tough fight begins” to pass it, secure a comparable Senate bill and bring the legislation to the president in 2010, Lopez said.

Photo: Jonathan McIntosh CC-BY-2.5



Marilyn Bechtel
Marilyn Bechtel

Marilyn Bechtel writes for the People’s World from the San Francisco Bay Area. She joined the PW staff in 1986, and currently participates as a volunteer.