A project of the Center for Community Change

Five Church Basements and a Bar…

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A letter from the field on April 10th:
 
“A year ago today over 6,000 immigrants marched in Lexington, KY to say “NO!” to HR 4437 and its attack on immigrant families.  It was the largest mobilization in the history of the State.

 

In the spirit of further engagement of last years marchers into daily civic life, and the life of their statewide organization, the Kentucky Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights held community forums in six cities and towns across the State.  Despite the fact that KCIRR was founded just over one year ago, have no staff-person, and are operating on a limited budget, they pulled off more events on April 10, 2007 than any other group in the country. 

 

Unlike April 10th of a year ago, if you would have driven through Kentucky you would have never guessed something was a brew within the immigrant community.  There were no historic marches or massive gatherings, but something just as magical was happening in church basements throughout the State.  In towns that most of us have never heard of, immigrants were engaging with each other in a real and deliberate way around the issues they face and how they as communities can organize to build the power and leadership needed to create better lives for their families.

 

The message that KCIRR lifted up across the state was that “to stop the raids and pass immigration reform, immigrants need to organize their communities and mobilize together like never before.”

 

In church basements in Owensboro and Erlanger immigrant families learned about where things are at with the immigration debate and how they can build power by organizing and mobilizing to impact the legislative process.  The conversation in Owensboro soon moved into worker rights and what the community can do to organize to protect the workers in the Western part of the State, where immigrants work on hog farms and in poultry plants.  In Erlanger 60 people committed to meeting every Saturday at 6PM at the church to keep organizing to pass immigration reform.

 

In Frankfort, KY a young woman named Marisol took a risk and pulled together Frankfort’s first meeting of immigrants.  She was scared and unsure, but she did it.  Twelve people showed up, learned about each other, talked about why they chose to come to the meeting, and expressed outrage over the raids.  Sensing a need to protect families, they developed an action plan to begin giving “Know Your Rights” workshops in Frankfort as a first step.  People made commitments and were assigned tasks.  There was a palpable excitement in the room about their decision to not leave the room without a next step.  Their first planning meeting is Sunday, April 15 and their first “Know Your Rights” workshop will be held on Sunday, April 22.
 
In Beaver Dam, KY, population 3000, over 100 immigrants gathered at church to learn about their rights, discuss the immigration debate, and make plans for building stronger organization in their community.
 
In Danville, 40 people showed up for an afternoon forum to learn about the debate in Congress and how they could organize to impact that debate.  Hours later in Lexington, over 300 immigrants packed into Bandero’s Night Club (no alcohol was served!) to rally together around stopping the raids, protecting families, and pushing for a fair immigration reform bill.  The room was bubbling with energy.  The sense of “we can do this” was again palpable in Kentucky.
 
“Again, the role of local immigrant media (newspapers and radio) was crucial,” said KCIRR board president Freddy Peralta.”

 

La Voz de Kentucky (Lexington) and Al Dia en America (Louisville) supported the April 10 events and we had more than 10 radio interviews, on a single day more than 40 radio spots, and there were live transmit ion of the event including live radio interventions by immigrant and KCIRR organizers. It was a truly statewide effort that really paid off: Si Se Pudo!

 

KCIRR’s message made the front page of the metro section of the Lexington Herald (which included the above photo) and was top story on the Herald’s editorial page (below).  To learn more about the Kentucky Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights go to http://www.kcirr.org

 

— BY George Goehl, Organizer, The Fair Immigration Reform Movement

 

AND the lead editorial from Today’s Lexington Herald:

 

Immigration issues
Melting pot reducing concern about policy reform

An issue raised in a front-page story in Tuesday’s Herald-Leader was partly addressed by a story on the local news front.

 

A McClatchy article about President Bush’s efforts to reform U.S. immigration policy mentioned opinion polls showing that immigration reform is no longer a top priority for Americans.

 

Only a third of Americans consider immigration reform an important issue; 5 percent call it their top priority. It understandably lags behind such issues as the Iraq war, terrorism, the economy and health care.

 

Meanwhile, a local story reported how Lexington parents are taking their preschoolers to classes so they can learn Spanish.

 

That parents consider this a valuable education indicates not just an embrace of the language but an acceptance that it is becoming part of the culture.

 

And on the same week that Bush called for more security at the U.S.-Mexican border, immigrants and their advocates in the Central Kentucky heartland met in shopping centers, churches and bingo halls to discuss what Congress must do about immigration reform.

 

How American.

 

Despite the fact that many people came into this country illegally, they are now part of our community and culture. And they are here in large part as a result of the nation’s trade and immigration policies, not despite them.

 

Bush is right to propose a guest-worker program and a path toward citizenship, with penalties. Whether the president has the political capital to successfully push such a plan is doubtful.

 

The alternative is to allow generations of people to live in this country without full accounting or accountability. In the meantime, this nation’s melting-pot nature will do its work until immigration reform will no longer register as an American priority.

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