SAN JOSE, Calif. - Over 40 Latino community leaders packed a meeting room at Sacred Heart Community Services here Feb. 6 to map out a campaign for worker-friendly immigration reform. The activists represented action committees from various neighborhoods and segments of the Latino community in the San Jose area.
Sacred Heart is a social service and advocacy organization serving and organizing homeless and low-income people in the South Bay region. Last year, Sacred Heart teamed up with the South Bay Labor Council and students and faculty from San Jose State University to pass a ballot measure raising the minimum wage in San Jose from eight to ten dollars an hour.
The meeting began with a PowerPoint presentation reviewing the history of Mexican immigration and previous immigration reform efforts, including a measure in the 1960s that resulted in citizenship for three million immigrants.
The group discussed President Obama's proposed immigration reform. Some criticized for failing to include all immigrants and for imposing requirements that made it difficult for those without jobs or money to gain citizenship. Nonetheless, the great majority saw it as worthy of support as at least a first step.
The three elements that participants found most crucial to immigration reform are a rapid path to citizenship, keeping families together, and more protections for workers. The group opposed provisions requiring English classes or fees and employer verification of workers' immigration status.
When asked whether they were ready to fight for that sort of immigration reform, the crowd responded with a vigorous "¡Sí!" Questioned they could win such reform, they answered with an even louder "¡Sí se puede!"-"Yes we can!"
Enemies of immigration reform were identified as the Republicans and business owners who profit from the labor of undocumented immigrants who can't fight back against exploitation because of the threat of deportation. It was noted, however, that under pressure some Republicans are beginning to rethink their stance on immigration.
In the discussion of what was needed to win this fight, two words kept coming up: unión, "union" or "unity," and presión, "pressure." Only a united campaign bringing steady pressure on Congress and the Administration will bring real reform, participants agreed. "Our opponents have the money," said Ricky, a Sacred Heart organizer, "but we have the people."
At the end of the meeting, each participant stated to the group the number of people he or she would invite to the next meeting on February 20 at Sacred Heart. When the results were allied, it turned out that over 200 people will be personally invited to build the campaign.
Other organizations working for immigration reform in the South Bay include the Santa Clara County Coalition for Comprehensive Immigration Reform and the May Day Coalition. If these groups work together toward a common goal, the South Bay will become a hotbed of pressure for progressive immigration reform.