Progress in the Fight for Immigrant Rights

All too frequently, the world looks bleak for those of us advocating for immigrants and immigration reform. But this week was a good week. The best news emerged from Illinois where yesterday Gov. Pat Quinn ended the so-called Secure Communities program because too many immigrants were getting caught up in its dragnet. The program has a stated purpose of detaining and deporting immigrants “who have been convicted of serious criminal offenses,” yet only 20 percent of the people deported from Illinois met that criteria, according to the Quinn’s letter.

Yesterday, too, in a bipartisan vote the Illinois Senate passed their version of the DREAM Act, which would create a scholarship account funded entirely by private dollars for scholarships for undocumented students seeking higher education. The bill now goes to the House where it is strongly supported.

Both events in Illinois didn’t just happen by chance. Like most social justice victories, there were community organizers leading the way. In this case, the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights worked hard to make yesterday’s progress happen.

“Gov. Quinn took the state of Illinois one step forward toward sensible solutions for our broken immigration system,” said Joshua Hoyt, executive director of ICIRR. “We need more policies like the Illinois DREAM Act, which the Senate passed today with an overwhelming bi-partisan vote of 45 - 11, not indiscriminate and reckless enforcement.”

In Florida, activists continued protesting the state’s attempts to pass a law that mimics Arizona’s SB 1070. Yesterday, the Senate did approve SB 2040, but it was a much different bill than the original, thanks in large part to the pressure being applied by Florida residents led by the Florida Immigrant Coalition, another FIRM member. The bill passed is bad enough. It would force state and local agencies to verify the legal status of people seeking public benefits and require law enforcement make “reasonable efforts” to verify the immigration status of anyone who is under arrest and is in police custody.

But we are winning this fight right now. According to the Miami Herald, prospects for its passage in the House appear bleak since two-thirds of representatives would have to support the bill before it could be considered. Meeting this requirement could be difficult given the stated opposition by the legislative Hispanic and black caucuses and most, if not all, Democrats. And with the passion and commitment on display in Florida, representatives will certainly here their constituents’ displeasure with this measure.

From the Miami Herald: “Today, we have enriched democracy by our presence,” said Maria del Rosario Rodriguez, FLIC's executive director, telling the others that they could take some credit for the softer Senate legislation.

On the national stage, President Obama held another high-level meeting this week to discuss a way forward on immigration reform. For those of you keeping tabs, that makes three meetings in the past couple of weeks. President Obama had already met with Latino celebrities, and a bipartisan group of CEOs, former elected officials and community leaders. Yesterday, President Obama met with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

According to The Hill, members of the caucus asked Obama to delay the deportations of certain undocumented immigrants, such as students who have been in the U.S for at least five years and do not have criminal histories. The Hill also revealed that Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), one of the most passionate and visible advocates for immigration reform, described the meeting as “productive” and that it was geared toward “how to prioritize deporting drug dealers and gangsters, but not to deport DREAM Act students and the families of U.S citizens.” According to Roll Call, President Obama told the meeting’s attendees “that the administration was looking into ways to concentrate enforcement resources on criminals.”

And that was another bit of good news, Sen. Dick Durbin is expected to reintroduce the DREAM Act soon, maybe as early as next week. As you may recall, the DREAM Act, which would grant legal status with a path to citizenship to young people who enroll in college or enlist in the military, passed in the House of Representatives last year under the Democratic majority, but falling five votes short, died in the Senate. It’s a good week when young people are given a chance to live without fear of deportation.

The fight, of course, if far from over. But in a bruising battle, it’s good to acknowledge positive steps forward. It was a good week.

Let's continue doing our part to keep the momentum in Florida going. Go to and sign the pledge to stay away from the state if it passes any law that promotes racial profiling. The pressure is working. Let's keep it up!