Immigrant rights are civil rights, meeting says

OAKLAND, Calif. — Calling the movement for immigration reform a “new civil rights movement of the 21st century,” Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) electrified participants in a labor and community conference here July 16 as she urged a united struggle for immigrant rights, civil rights and an end to the war in Iraq.

Jackson Lee, first vice-chair of the Congressional Black Caucus and a member of the new Out of Iraq Caucus, earlier this year introduced HR 2092, the “Save America Comprehensive Immigration Act,” which now has 18 co-sponsors.

She was keynote speaker at the Community Dialogue on Immigration Reform initiated by 14 Bay Area labor, immigrant rights and community organizations.

In a brief conversation before the program, Rep. Jackson Lee said passage of the bill will require “a sizeable progressive movement that recognizes that immigration reform is as much a part of the progressive agenda as health care, education, civil rights and ending the Iraq war.”

“I don’t exclude other initiatives,” she said, adding that HR 2092 “looks at what’s wrong with the immigration system” with the intent to fix it.

Jackson Lee told conference participants that HR 2092 “will bring millions of hard working undocumented immigrants out of the shadows.” She added that doubling family reunion visas to 960,000 per year responds to a key concern of the immigrant community. HR 2092 also:

• provides a path to legalization for immigrants who have lived in the U.S. for five years,

• makes discriminating against a worker because of immigration status an unfair labor practice,

• makes special provisions for Haitian and Liberian refugees and asylum-seekers,

• protects women immigrants against sexual violence and trafficking,

• removes minor crimes as a basis for deportation,

• increases border security using trained border agents, not military personnel.

Unlike President Bush’s proposal or the Kennedy-McCain bill on immigration, HR 2092 does not include any new guest worker programs. Jackson Lee called such programs “contract labor programs with no benefits.”

She emphasized the urgency of job creation to meet the shared needs of native-born working class, racially and nationally oppressed communities and immigrant communities.

Sharing the platform were six panelists from labor and immigrant rights organizations.

Odilia Romero of the Frente Indigena Oaxaqueno Binacional and Marta Campos of the San Jose-based Services, Immigrant Rights and Education Network underscored the need to unite for justice across race and color, while the Rev. Phil Lawson, retired pastor of the Easter Hill United Methodist Church, called attention to the role of international issues, including globalization, in the problems faced by working-class communities.

Lillian Galedo of Filipinos for Affirmative Action pointed out that HR 2092 offers “a genuine legalization program based on residency” and “acknowledges that immigrants to the U.S. have been working and contributing.” She added, “It’s not lost on us that the Congressional Black Caucus is leading in Congress on this issue.”

Lamoin Werlein-Jaen of UNITE HERE Local 2 stressed the importance of the labor movement’s recent shift to emphasize immigrant rights, while Diane Tellefson of the United Farm Workers pointed to the reintroduction of the “Ag Jobs Bill,” HR 884/SB 359, to provide an “earned adjustment” program for undocumented farm workers.

Immigration measures of the last two decades have resulted in “lots of servitude and oppression with little protection,” labor journalist David Bacon said in introducing the panel. Of President Bush’s guest worker proposal, he asked, “Is the choice between crossing the desert or becoming a modern-day bracero any choice at all?”