Passing Immigration Reform in 2010: The Fierce Urgency of Now

The latest post from our guest blogger, Robert Gittelson:

On Saturday, I had the good fortune to be able to attend an important CIR advocacy event in Los Angeles. It was sponsored by CHIRLA - who I note is a member organization of both FIRM and RI4A – in conjunction with SEIU, LIUNA, and the RI4A Campaign.  The event, titled, “2010: Year of Immigration Reform Town Hall,” was billed as a forum on immigration reform, but it was much more than that.

Saturday’s event was about hope, faith, determination, and unity.

The event brought together leaders from many diverse fields that comprise the coalition(s) that are working together to make happen the change that our society needs and demands in the area of immigration policy. This event featured a House Democratic Party leader in Xavier Becerra, several labor leaders from SEIU and LIUNA, community leaders, academic researchers, and importantly several faith community leaders.

As these leaders spoke on the issue of CIR, and what will have to happen in Washington and around the nation to see CIR pass this year, it was striking to note that they all were on the same page. The fact that all of these leaders were united in their thinking and actions speaks to the inherent strength that the pro-CIR advocacy movement has galvanized. However, it also speaks to the recognized challenges that must be overcome to make this urgent legislation a reality.

Angelica Salas of CHIRLA started the meeting by stressing the importance of, what President Obama has often termed, the “fierce urgency of now.” She brought the crowd to their feet:

From the Huffington Post:

“…before Becerra showed up, Salas, clearly anticipating that the Congressman might deliver a somber caution, coached the packed room on how to respond if Becerra demonstrated any inclination to extend the battle for immigration reform beyond 2010.

“I want to hear from you guys: ‘The time is now!’” The audience chanted responsively. Salas repeated the instruction. “What are you going to say? ‘The time is now!’” And again, for emphasis: “If someone says, ‘We have to wait,’ what are you going to say?” The students near me along with the rest of the crowd got the point: “The time is now!” they yelled.”

The event became very moving when a young woman named Beatrice, only 15, testified about the plight of her family, and the early morning events of last year involving I.C.E., that led to a situation in which Beatrice eventually tried to take her own young life.

Later Congressman Becerra spoke directly to this brave young girl, as he told her to stay strong, and continue to tell her story. He told her that here in L.A., her story was not all that unusual, but that across the country, those other communities needed to hear her story, because they, “don’t feel it, like we here in Los Angeles feel it.” This discussion brought to mind the important Familias Unidas pro-CIR events that were led by Luis Gutierrez over the past several months.

Before Congressman Becerra spoke, SEIU ULTCW Trustee Laphonza Butler, (who hosted this forum), noted:

From the SEIU blog:

"People are hurting. Real lives are at stake. Among our members and in our communities. We cannot rest until we get comprehensive immigration reform. Its an issue for all of us, regardless of race, cultural differences or economic status."

Xavier Becerra was unusually candid as he addressed the crowd.

He assured the audience that he felt that the House would be able to pass CIR, but that the votes were not yet secured by the Senate, in sufficient numbers to override the anticipated GOP filibuster, requiring at least 60 pro-CIR votes. Univision reports it this way:

A second plan is being drafted by Senators Charles Schumer (DN.Y.) and Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) and includes a legalization path similar the Gutierrez bill, but there is no date for introduction into Senate.

Late on Saturday, Becerra said President Obama remembers his promise of immigration reform, but reiterated that the political climate was not right for the bill yet.

However, despite the effort to impart hope, Becerra gave no indication of a likely date for an immigration reform bill and reiterated that the bill would need bi-partisan support.

Democrats do not have enough votes to pass the bill without Republican support, despite having the majority.

U.C.L.A. Professor Raul Hinojosa-Ojeda, who has recently completed an important study documenting that CIR would result in a $1.5 Trillion stimulus to our economy over the next 10 years, spoke earnestly about the economic need for immigration reform. The Professor and I had an opportunity to speak about this issue, and we agreed that it was vital that we use this information to inform the public not only about the economic boost that CIR would create for our GDP, but also how this stimulus would in fact create more jobs for our entire economy, not just our immigrant population. It is a message that we will carry forward in our effort to educate the public at large as to why CIR is good for everyone.

The Congressman was very specific as to what he expected and needed from the advocate community. He urged us to help him, by advocating not just here in the immigrant rich cities of Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, and El Paso. He noted that our message of truth needed to be heard in the all important swing districts of our Nation, where the “fence sitters” are located. He further noted that in Washington DC, our message was too muted. He felt that the politicians in DC don’t understand the urgency of the need for CIR, and especially don’t “feel our pain.”

The rally continued with an urgent message from one of the national labor leaders that was there to speak, my fellow Full Rights for Immigrants Coalition member Humberto Gomez of LIUNA. He alluded to the days when he worked side-by-side with Caesar Chavez, and urged the advocates in the room to take to the streets. He first of all mentioned the importance of the scheduled March FOR America in Washington, DC on March 21st. Then he also mentioned that for those of us that couldn’t come to march in Washington, that there would be an important rally here in Los Angeles at the end of that week, on Saturday 3/27/10, here in Downtown Los Angeles.

The rally concluded with several important faith leaders from the community, such as Rev. Alexia Salvatierra of CLUE-CA, Pastor Bridie Roberts of CLUE-LA, and several other members of the clergy. They prayed for immigration reform. Importantly, they also prayed for Congressman Becerra, so that he could have the strength and wisdom that will be needed, to win the hearts and minds of his fellow members of Congress, and to be able to move them through the power of his convictions to do the right thing, to be on the right side of history, and to vote to pass Comprehensive Immigration Reform this year, in 2010.

Photos via SEIU ULTCW.

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